Commentary Magazine


Topic: Flat Earth Society

From Healer to Divider-in-Chief

It has become a familiar refrain: conservatives reach for “wedge” (read: social) issues in presidential campaigns in order to distract and divide voters. That narrative has always been suspect. But I wonder when it will dawn on political reporters and commentators that it is Barack Obama who is compulsively reaching for “wedge” issues in the hopes of dividing Americans against one another.

In just the last few weeks, for example, the president has weighed in on the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy, the membership policies of Augusta National Golf Club, the Trayvon Martin shooting, as well as altering the status quo when it comes to requiring Catholic hospitals, charities and universities to provide insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and abortifacients, in violation of their conscience and creed.

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It has become a familiar refrain: conservatives reach for “wedge” (read: social) issues in presidential campaigns in order to distract and divide voters. That narrative has always been suspect. But I wonder when it will dawn on political reporters and commentators that it is Barack Obama who is compulsively reaching for “wedge” issues in the hopes of dividing Americans against one another.

In just the last few weeks, for example, the president has weighed in on the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy, the membership policies of Augusta National Golf Club, the Trayvon Martin shooting, as well as altering the status quo when it comes to requiring Catholic hospitals, charities and universities to provide insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and abortifacients, in violation of their conscience and creed.

On the first three issues, Obama is acting more like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell than president. And if you take the four issues together, it’s clear what’s occurring. Obama cannot defend his record and has no compelling second term agenda; his goal is to toss dust in the wind, to draw attention away from the economy and the increasing disorder in the world so that his allies can portray the GOP as engaged in a “war on women.”

This tactic is an important concession of sorts. Barack Obama has shown he can’t govern and won’t even try. But he does know how to campaign. It’s the one thing he seems to relish and has (along with community organizing) shown some skill at. The fact that Obama is campaigning in 2012 in precisely the opposite manner he portrayed himself in 2008 isn’t lost on anyone – including the RNC (see this effective new ad).

The president has gone from being a healer of the breach to the divider-in-chief. Hope and change has given way to slash-and-burn. On the campaign trail he’s now referring to Republicans as members of the “flat earth society” and the House GOP budget as an example of “Social Darwinism.” (If Obama is going to attack Republicans, at least he could be creatively vicious instead of banal and mean-spirited.) To have a president engage in these tactics with such relish, and to do so this early in the campaign cycle, will do significant damage to our political culture. But it’s clear to any detached observer that it doesn’t matter to Obama. After all, he has an election to win, power to keep, and an opponent to destroy.

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Did Oil Production Increase Under Obama?

One of the themes of President Obama’s energy tour this week is that oil production increased under his watch. Speaking in Boulder, Colorado, he claimed:

“We’re going to continue to produce oil and gas at a record pace,” he told one crowd.

The president first paid a visit to the largest solar plant of its kind in the country, in Boulder City, Nev., a city southeast of Las Vegas. The plant is home to nearly a million solar panels.

He blasted Republicans, who he says have favored oil companies over investments in alternative energy.

“The current members of the Flat Earth Society in Congress,” Mr. Obama said, “they would rather see us continue to provide $4 billion in tax subsidies, tax giveaways to the oil companies.”

Domestic oil production may have increased under Obama, but it has absolutely nothing to do with his policies.

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One of the themes of President Obama’s energy tour this week is that oil production increased under his watch. Speaking in Boulder, Colorado, he claimed:

“We’re going to continue to produce oil and gas at a record pace,” he told one crowd.

The president first paid a visit to the largest solar plant of its kind in the country, in Boulder City, Nev., a city southeast of Las Vegas. The plant is home to nearly a million solar panels.

He blasted Republicans, who he says have favored oil companies over investments in alternative energy.

“The current members of the Flat Earth Society in Congress,” Mr. Obama said, “they would rather see us continue to provide $4 billion in tax subsidies, tax giveaways to the oil companies.”

Domestic oil production may have increased under Obama, but it has absolutely nothing to do with his policies.

As the Washington Free Beacon reports today, just 4 percent of the total increase in domestic oil production occurred on federal land:

The study, prepared by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), examined oil production on federal and non-federal land between 2007-2011. Approximately 96 percent of the total increase in domestic oil production occurred on non-federal land, CRS found.

Earlier this month, the Energy Information Administration reported that oil and natural gas production on federal land declined 40 percent over the past decade and 14 percent in 2011 alone.

So not only did almost all of the production take place on land beyond the Obama administration’s control, but it decreased significantly on land within his control.

It’s unclear whether Obama’s defense of his energy policies will be convincing to voters, or at least persuasive enough to mollify public anger over rising gas prices. But I wonder whether Obama’s doing himself any favors by referring to congressional Republicans in such antagonistic terms. Obviously Obama wasn’t going to be able to run on the post-partisan, civil discourse platform this time around. But he’s taking things to an extreme that seems politically unhelpful.

Acting frustrated by congressional Republicans, which Obama has done in the past, isn’t likely to turn off voters. But calling his political opponents “members of the Flat Earth Society” – has that even been funny since 1992? – just comes off as snarky and self-satisfied. He’s used it enough times in the last few days that it’s clearly intentional. But if Obama’s communication skills are as brilliant as his supporters believe, he should at least be able to explain his disagreement with Republicans without leaning on stale sarcastic insults as a crutch.

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