As a political strategy, it is highly unusual. Support for President Obama’s health-care plan is dropping precipitously, undone by stubborn facts and a growing realization among many Americans of the damaging effects ObamaCare would exact on their lives. As Democratic members of Congress return to their districts and host town-hall meetings, they are, in many circumstances, being met by concerned, agitated, and sometimes raucous or disruptive voters. Opposition is rising by the week.
Faced with all this, Obama and the Democratic National Committee have embraced a novel approach: attack the voters. These voters are, a new DNC ad tells us repeatedly, a “mob,” an “angry mob,” engaging in “mob activity.” Much of the anger, insists the president’ s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, is “manufactured.” There are hints of a conspiracy. And President Obama, in remarks yesterday, gripes and complains about “griping and complaining” by the American public. (This from a man who, during the campaign, in counseling his supporters on what to do with his opponents, asked them to “get in their face” and celebrated properly channeled “anger” on the part of the American people.)
Public officials shouldn’t be shouted down; reasoned, measured debate is certainly preferable to yelling. At the same time, there is a certain hypocrisy in all this as well. During the Bush era, liberals believed dissent — including loud, boisterous speaking “truth to power” — was the highest form of patriotism. “Not any more,” in the immortal words of Peter Sellers’s character Inspector Clouseau.
Obama is also complaining about his critics’ use of the Internet to organize their opposition. This is doubly strange, since the Internet was a crucial tool in Obama’s election victory, and the president is very proud of his work as a “community organizer” in Chicago. In his autobiography, Obama described how he saw his role, which was to
pronounce on the need for change. Change in the White House, where Reagan and his minions were carrying on their dirty deeds. Change in Congress, compliant and corrupt. Change in the mood of the country, manic and self-absorbed. Change won’t come from the top, I would say. Change will come from a mobilized grass roots. That’s what I’ll do, I’ll organize black folks. At the grass roots. For change.
What we are seeing unfold today, online as well as in town-hall meetings and protests across the country, sounds very much like community-organizing, but for a conservative rather than a liberal cause. So in the eyes of some, community-organizing and political activism have gone from being virtues to being vices.
With public anger toward ObamaCare rising, the president and his allies have decided to pour kerosene on the embers and flames (and fearful Democrats have taken to canceling town-hall meetings). It is an old and sad story we are seeing play out: rather than facing the rancor at town-hall meetings as a sign of growing frustration and unrest, the president and his team are outright denying it. They are reacting defensively, bitterly, and aggressively. And Barack Obama — the man of unsurpassed equanimity and a calm temperament, who praises Lincoln because he always understood the views of those with whom he disagreed, the man who would usher in a “new era” of politics and civility, of enlightened public discourse and comity among previously warring factions — is allowing his representatives to mock and demonize his critics.
Here’s the bad news for the president: those critics are growing in number — and responding with Chicago-style politics will only create more of them. As a political strategy, what Obama is doing is lamentable and unwise. He will, soon enough, discover the error of his ways.