Disillusionment is a powerful force in politics, but usually it’s the voters who get disenchanted with the politicians. In the era of Hope and Change, failures don’t belong to the One, but to the many, according to Barack Obama. The fault of polarization, on gun issues and everything else, seems to be the fault of everyone except himself — or so Obama told a crowd at a Democratic fundraiser last night:
President Obama wrapped up a day he began with an angry and frustrated reaction to the mass killings in Charleston, S.C., by acknowledging that he has been unable to change the culture of polarization and gridlock in Washington.
But he also challenged Democratic supporters to do their part to make the political changes rather than remain disillusioned about the inability of the nation’s capital to respond to gun violence and other problems.
“When I ran in 2008, I in fact did not say I would fix it. I said we could fix it,” Obama told an audience of about 250 at a fundraising event here at the stately hillside home of film mogul Tyler Perry. “I didn’t say, ‘Yes, I can.’ I said, ‘Yes, we can.'”
The president continued: “If you’re dissatisfied that every few months we have a mass shooting in this country killing innocent people, then I need you to mobilize and organize a constituency that says this is not normal and we are going to change it.”
Obama’s right … in the most literal sense possible. During the 2007-8 campaign he did use Yes We Can as his rallying cry, so the President is correct on the pronouns. However, the we that backed Obama can be forgiven for assuming that Obama intended to provide leadership on that effort, an expectation that has gone thoroughly unmet, as yesterday’s remarks on the shooting demonstrated. Rather than bringing together Americans in a time of sorrow, or even using the occasion to remark on the futility of ancient hatreds, Obama instead chose to lay blame on his political opponents for not jumping on his gun-control bandwagon — with proposals that would have done nothing to stop yesterday’s racist rampage massacre.
On the larger point of bitter polarization and gridlock, Obama has never led by example. From the first moments of his presidency, Obama relied on bare-knuckle politics over the supposed post-partisan principles he espoused. When Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid locked Republicans out of writing the ill-considered stimulus bill in early 2009, his response to Republicans complaining about it was: “I won.” The health-insurance overhaul informally named after Obama only passed with Democratic votes after Obama did nothing to facilitate bipartisanship, and only through legislative chicanery conducted by Obama’s hatchet man on Capitol Hill, Harry Reid.
Even on broader politics, Obama has spent six years stoking class-based resentment and divisional identity politics. Under his leadership, Democrats ran several demagogic campaigns against the wealthy, claimed Republicans were waging a “war on women” (a strategy that backfired in 2014, especially with Colorado’s Mark “Uterus” Udall), and ran one of the nastiest personal-attack presidential campaigns in recent memory against Mitt Romney. That campaign featured Reid calling Romney a tax-evading felon from the floor of the Senate and challenging Romney to prove his innocence, all to push Romney to release tax returns so Obama and his team could play envy politics with Romney’s wealth.
But it’s also true on the very policy area Obama cites here. After Newtown, Obama could have gotten a broader requirement for background checks passed in Congress; even the NRA has cautiously considered certain expansions for private transfers. Instead, Obama blew up any chance of compromise by doing exactly what he did yesterday: implying that his political opponents are responsible for mass murders, then demanding far-reaching changes to the law that wouldn’t have addressed the situation in the first place. When that fails, Obama then uses that failure to demagogue even further.
Obama’s rallying cry may have been Yes We Can, but his operational style is pure Chicago Machine demagoguery. Obama is right that it’s the fault of voters … the ones who fell for that illusion in the first place.