Saturday, March 7, 2009

Even Jay Cost Is Catching On...

Once upon a time, Jay Cost wrote:

[Obama] does not seem to suffer from the narrow-minded presumption that those who disagree must be either stupid or acting in bad faith. These are not the only qualities that recommend Obama. His personality is captivating. And, furthermore, the man is obviously intelligent. All in all, he seems to be a smart, politically astute, charismatic, and thoroughly decent fellow.
What really intrigued him about the Obama campaign?
What Obama seems to offer is a respite from pettiness as a necessary prelude for policy breakthroughs. Seen in the context of his legislative record, his offer to the public is not a substantive transcendence of partisan politics. It is, rather, a spiritual transcendence from small-minded partisan sentimentality. He does not necessarily view the world differently from the most senior, or most liberal, members of his caucus. Rather, he has a personal orientation to the other side that is more congenial - that recognizes that their point of view, even if it might be wrong, is nevertheless valid and honest. He intends to change the tone.
And today?
[W]hen the first major political battle of his administration came, the President tossed "change the tone" out the window. Sure, he was willing to ply his Republican opponents with some cocktails at the White House - but when that didn't do the trick, he resorted to attacking a straw man, falsely implying that his opponents preferred to do nothing at all.

Now, we have come to the second major political battle of his administration, and - whaddaya know! - his team is attacking a straw man once again. This time, they are doing so by pushing the patently absurd claim that Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the Republican Party. Democrats have been batting this one back and forth for a few weeks, but now we know that the White House has been intimately involved in the strategy.
What really bothers him about all this?
I understand why Democrats in Congress, the media, and the DNC are doing this. Frankly, that doesn't bother me at all. That's the way political games are played, and GOP politicos have certainly done their fair share of this over the years to deserve all that they get. But I am deeply disappointed that the President himself is playing this game - not just because he is the President and this kind of nonsense should be beneath him. It's also because he is the President in part because he promised he wouldn't do this stuff! And yet, we've seen this kind of immature nonsense quite a bit from an administration that has only been in place for a month.

The White House can play these idle political games if it wants. It can stay in permanent campaign mode and work to impeach the credibility of those who question its policies - congressional Republicans, Rick Santelli, Jim Cramer, and anybody else who voices opposition. However, none of that will alter two simple facts: (a) there is an election coming in 20 months; (b) the public will vote based upon its evaluation of President Obama's performance, not Rush Limbaugh. To that end, I'd suggest that the Chief of Staff spend more time ensuring that...oh, I don't know...the British aren't offended for no good reason than whether Limbaugh finds his way to the top of another news cycle.

It's been twenty six months since Barack Obama delivered that web announcement proclaiming his concern for the tone - but it feels like it has been much, much longer. Lately, I've been thinking about that historic primary battle - when Democrats chose "change the tone" over "ready on day one." If Democrats had chosen Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama - we would probably still be seeing this kind of political hardball, but would it come with this sort of useless, thoughtless, clueless snubbing of our closest ally? I doubt it.
I doubt it, too.