Eight long minutes here, although it’s only part of his remarks this afternoon. The other part was devoted to gun control, of course, and the idea that law-abiding Americans should learn to do without “assault weapons” in the interest of limiting terrorists’ access to them too. Why that same principle doesn’t apply to social media and the First Amendment, I sincerely don’t know. Internet propaganda has been more useful to ISIS in spreading terror than any single lone-wolf terrorist has. If you’re going to take AR-15s off the shelves to make life harder on terrorists (never mind that Mateen didn’t use an AR-15), logically you should take global platforms like Twitter and Facebook off the shelf too. You still get to keep your revolver. And your printing press.
Here’s O, who yesterday described Islamic fanatics as “nihilists,” insisting that using the term “radical Islam” wouldn’t change anything in fighting terror but, er, he’s still not going to use it. You would think that having the word radical as an adjective to distinguish nonviolent Muslims from the rest would render the term inoffensive; it was good enough for George W. Bush, whom Democrats nowadays praise endlessly as a Republican voice of reason in drawing bright lines between jihadis on Muslims writ large. Not good enough for O, though. What he ends up arguing fairly overtly is that truth is subordinate to utility when you’re discussing foreign policy. (Although, in fairness to him, that principle has always guided diplomacy.) On and on he goes, eventually meandering around to Trump, but his core points are neatly summarized by Hillary’s speech elsewhere today:
Here are Hillary Clinton's four points on why Trump's Muslim ban would make it harder to fight terrorism. pic.twitter.com/CD8jyzcv4s
— Dan Merica (@danmericaCNN) June 14, 2016
The standout line to my ear comes at the very end when he talks about Muslim-Americans coming to fear that “their government is betraying them” if Republicans follow Trump’s lead on Muslims. The “government betrayal” line is striking because it precisely mirrors Trump’s populism: You can’t do better to summarize Trump’s nationalist indictment of the political establishment in a single word than “betrayal,” yet here Obama is turning it around on him from the perspective of one of his targets. “You’re betraying this unpopular minority by insisting on using an accurate term” seems like a not-so-swift position for Democrats to take, but Republicans lost twice to this guy. Maybe he knows what he’s doing.
As for strategy, I think Obama had a clear goal here. This is a trial run to see what happens in the polls when he takes on Trump directly on an issue that’s supposed to be key to Trump’s appeal. The conventional wisdom is that terror attacks boost Trump’s chances at winning because they make the public nervous, and nervous people see value in a strongman. Whether that’s actually true, though, or whether Hillary’s experience and more trusted temperament will blunt Trump’s gains, we won’t know until the polls come out next week. Obama’s gun-control blathering might help Trump too by alienating the working-class whites Trump needs to peel off from Democrats. On the other hand, Obama’s job approval stands at 53 percent in Gallup as I write this, possibly because swing voters have come to appreciate Obama more now that they’re faced with the meager choice of Clinton or Trump. What O’s doing here in confronting Trump on an issue in his wheelhouse, I think, is testing how much or how influence he’ll have on the trail later this year, which will determine how aggressively Democrats use him against Trump. If Trump winds up with a big post-Orlando bounce in the polls last week despite Obama taking him on, that’s a clue that O is ineffective at best and actively damaging at worst to Democrats in countering Trump on terror. If Trump winds up with no bounce, that’ll be seen as proof that O did little damage at a minimum and might have helped Clinton by setting up a more “presidential” contrast with Trump. We’ll see. Exit quotation via James Poulos:
Hard to escape the feeling that the president is angry because his understanding of the world is being continuously repudiated by reality
— James Poulos (@jamespoulos) June 14, 2016