"Fear is not a proper motivator": Michelle Obama rebukes Hillary and Holder

A welcome comment after the attack of the zombie Obama alums this week, but whether or not fear is a “proper” motivator, it’s certainly a good motivator. Voters don’t show up on Election Day to say “thank you” to the people in power, as Corey Lewandowski said a few months ago to the NYT — or at least they don’t in an era in which partisan affiliations are chosen mainly for “negative” reasons. They show up because they’re angry at the other side or convinced they stand to lose something precious if their side doesn’t prevail. That’s why for every “tax cuts!” message pitched at Republican voters this fall, there are 20 messages along the lines of “they smeared Kavanaugh!” or “they’re going to impeach Trump!” or “Antifa’s coming!”

Fear is a good motivator. And although Barack would doubtless agree with Michelle here — hope has always been his brand — he was never above using it to goose his supporters. He preferred letting surrogates do it, which they did eagerly against Romney: You remember the cancer smear from 2012 and the endless “war on women” nonsense, in which Romney’s willingness to hire qualified women somehow became a talking point against him. He used it occasionally even in 2008, at the height of Hopenchange. The political establishment now remembers John McCain as a voice of decency, the man who snatched the mic out of a supporter’s hand at a rally when she wondered whether Obama was an Arab. But here’s how Obama was saluting him in July 2008, two months before Maverick added the populist Sarah Palin to his ticket:

“Nobody thinks that Bush and McCain have a real answer to the challenges we face. So what they’re going to try to do is make you scared of me,” Obama said. “You know, `he’s not patriotic enough, he’s got a funny name,’ you know, `he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.”‘

Obama himself didn’t make clear what distinctions he thinks McCain is likely to raise regarding the presidents on U.S. currency-white men who for the most part were much older than Obama when elected. McCain has not raised Obama’s race as an issue in the campaign; he has said Obama lacks experience.

That’s peak Obama. Any chump politician could smear two Republicans unfairly as racist, but to do it while tsk-tsking their supposed willingness to practice the “politics of fear”? That’s O at the top of his game. The punchline is that, 10 years later, he was at McCain’s funeral eulogizing him as the good Republican while Michelle sat next to Dubya, whom she now affectionately calls her “partner in crime.” Obama understood that fear works. (What grates more than than his willingness to fling sh*t was his assumption that his didn’t stink.) At the end of the day, if fear gets you closer to socialized medicine or tax hikes, hey. The ends justify the means.

In fact, Michael Graham reminded me today of this Democratic ad released in August 2009, seven months after O took office, when Democratic senators and congressmen were facing off with tea partiers at town halls over ObamaCare. Does this look like a party that believes “fear is not a proper motivator” or has some deep, principled objection to protesters being described as a “mob”?

I don’t mean to lay off all of that on Michelle Obama. She should be commended for taking the high road at a moment when her party is highly incentivized to go low. But it’s borderline silly to cajole Democrats to think of the children in their political rhetoric when they’ve spent the last 20 months insisting that fascism is descending on the United States. If they believe even a tenth of what they’ve said about Trump’s awfulness, how could they not go whole hog on fear before the midterms?

I don’t think Obama’s advice is really intended to be taken seriously, though. Her niche in the party at this point, and in American culture more broadly, is “role model.” Urging people not to stoop to fearmongering is precisely the sort of moral encouragement you’d want to hear from a role model, and precisely the sort of thing most of us discard instantly once real money or power is on the line. Dems will applaud her for this, and they’ll be back to demanding an uprising against Republican monsters tomorrow.