No More Evasion: Mr. Obama Chooses to 'Scare the Bear'
In March, 2010, a Democrat and public intellectual named Peter Beinart noticed that President Obama and the Democrats -- then enjoying control of both Houses of Congress -- had broken with a time-tested Democratic strategy.
What exercised Peter Beinart, fourteen months into the Obama administration, was Mr. Obama's and his allies' decision to bet their control of Congress on passing universal health care despite the opposition of a majority of the American people.
Peter Beinart thought that that was very dangerous. Granted, Beinart said, Obama & Co. deserved credit for being true to their principles. They were going "all in" to achieve a goal of the American left since FDR's proposed Second Bill of Rights in 1944.
But they were also, Beinart warned, abandoning a successful political strategy sometimes followed by Democrats since the 1972 McGovern debacle. That strategy goes by the name of "the politics of evasion."
Evasion as a Democratic strategy dates from a famous academic paper published in 1989 by William Galston and Elaine Kamarck. The "politics of evasion" is captured in the expression: "don't scare the bear."
The bear is the American people -- who are not liberal, let alone Marxist.
Democrats, Galston and Kamarck wrote in 1989, ignored the bear at their peril. Don't scare the bear! Instead, they argued, Democrats should fly under a false flag -- rather than arouse the opposition of the American majority.
George McGovern in 1972 and Walter Mondale in 1984 showed their true colors. Both were crushed in historic landslides.
Bill Clinton and the generation of Democrats spawned by the Democratic Leadership Council heeded the advice. They rode the strategy of evasion to victory in 1992 and 1996. It's embodied in the so-called Third Way (also copied by the U.K.'s Tony Blair and his New Labourites) and in political strategist Dick Morris' famous tactic of "triangulation."
Barack Obama, greatly helped by the MSM black-out on his socialist past, engaged in a little evasion himself to win the presidency in 2008.
Hence Peter Beinart's prophetic warning in March 2010. Mr. Obama and the Pelosi-Reid Democrats, he wrote, were abandoning the "politics of evasion" to pass ObamaCare. "By pressing ahead on health care," Beinart said, "President Obama is ending a decades-long internal debate within his party -- and the Democratic Party will never be the same."
ObamaCare passed. And, six months later, Beinart was proved right. The bear roared -- with the rise of the Tea Party and the results of the November 2010 election.
It's useful, therefore, to recall Peter Beinart's warning in the context of the current moment. Because, with the new DHHS regulations mandating coverage of contraceptive and abortion services by all employers, President Obama and the DHHS secretary have chosen to scare the bear again.
This time, there's no excuse. And, at the moment, the Good Ship Barack is taking on water. The primary beneficiary, so far, is one Rick Santorum.
Here's Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput's statement on the DHHS regs yesterday:
No similarly aggressive attack on religious freedom in our country has occurred in recent memory. [snip]
[T]he current administration has created a mandate which is the embodiment of culture war. At its heart is a seemingly deep distrust of the formative role religious faith has on personal and social conduct, and a deep distaste for religion's moral influence on public affairs. To say that this view is contrary to the Founders' thinking and to the record of American history would be an understatement.
As the Wall Street Journal said in its lead editorial (entitled "Immaculate Contraception") on Saturday, "behold the soul of ObamaCare." They're right. ObamaCare done it -- which is why it must be repealed.
The WSJ's editors were also right when they noted that "the many voters shaken by the fact that the White House would so willfully erode the American traditions of religious liberty and pluralism, most of whom don't adhere to anti-contraceptive teachings."
There's that bear again -- growling. Yet, on Sunday morning, there also was President Obama's chief of staff, Jack Lew, on CNN, poking the bear. Lew told Candy Crowley that the administration was done with compromise.
"This is our plan," said the White House chief of staff. Comply or else.
We'll see. Unless Mr. Obama recalls Peter Beinart's 2010 warning and heeds it, the president may achieve the same result -- this time with control of both Congress and the White House at stake.
I do have a quibble. Archbishop Chaput -- perhaps in a spirit of charity -- comments that the Obama administration seems to be "tone deaf to people of faith."
My personal view is that they're not tone-deaf. Team Obama know what they're doing.
The Liberal Project continues to advance. They're trying -- sometimes using salami tactics, sometimes using a steamroller -- to take down the U.S. as the sole global superpower and to build secular socialism in one country. Team Obama believes that this fight they've picked (along with ObamaCare itself, and all the rest) is an effective way to do it.
Team Obama is thus engaging in the political equivalent of spiritual warfare. They believe that making this fight is a way to win the 2012 election. With -- as the New York Times chronicled yesterday -- so many Americans now receiving one form or another of benefits from the federal government or otherwise complicit in the Big-Government welfare state, the Democratic re-election strategy is that, at the moment of truth, the voters will vote to retain ObamaCare.
Thus, the president and his people believe that using ObamaCare to mandate contraception and abortion services is yet another useful wedge issue. They hope it will enable them to rally a "majority of minorities" behind Mr. Obama this November to hold on to the White House. The target audience, I suspect, is female voters -- especially Catholic women, most of whom reportedly use contraception.
Maybe they'll be proved right. So far, though, the evidence suggests otherwise. It's not just Catholics, either.
The first sign that the ice was breaking under the president was Kathleen Parker's February 3 Washington Post column. Parker, writing about both the DHHS regs and the controversy regarding the Susan B. Komen Race for Cure Foundation and Planned Parenthood, said the following:
The fundamental question is: who are we? As we individually search for the answer, we know this much: Coercion and intimidation are the tools of mobs and tyrants and have no place in this calculus.
This, in context, was remarkable. Parker, a social conservative (but often not a political conservative), is no Republican hit man. Yet she sounded like Ann Coulter in her current best-selling book, Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America.
That was more than ten days ago -- before Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado voted.
Following the Santorum sweep, Rick Warren -- the California-based pastor who gave the invocation at Mr. Obama's Inaugural -- condemned the president's move. Pastor Warren announced his willingness to go to jail rather than obey the new DHHS regulations. In so doing, a national Evangelical leader joined the Catholic bishops.
Erick Erickson of RedState had also gotten there earlier. On Sunday, February 5, he published "The Perversion of the Words of Our Lord Jesus Christ by the Sinner Barack H. Obama." In it, Erickson flayed the president's remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Conservative commentator and talk show host Hugh Hewitt (who is Catholic) declared a kulturkamf the same day. That's German for "culture war." It harks back to the persecution of the Catholic Church in Prussia under Bismarck.
One suspects, therefore, that Archbishop Chaput's embrace of the term (he's also the author of Render unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life) is not accidental.
People of a certain age, like me, remember more recent history. Patrick J. Buchanan famously warned 20 years ago of the existence of a culture war. Delivering the keynote speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention, Buchanan announced "a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America." He continued:
The agenda Clinton & Clinton would impose on America -- abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat units -- that's change, all right. But it's not the kind of change America needs. It's not the kind of change America wants. And it is not the kind of change we can abide in a nation we still call God's country.
Strong stuff. Buchanan was roundly condemned for it, too, back in 1992, especially by liberals -- and Republican moderates allied to then-President George H.W. Bush.
Well, here we are in 2012. On Wednesday, approaching the subject from the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, the New Yorker's executive editor, David Remnick, came to the same conclusion as Hugh Hewitt did earlier in the week -- and as Pat Buchanan did in 1992.
Remnick's headline: "Here Comes the Culture War."
Out on the hustings, fresh from his three wins on Tuesday, Senator Santorum said President Obama had set the country on a path akin to a new French Revolution. Santorum mentioned guillotines. He did not mention the Vendee -- but others did.
Back at the New Yorker, John Cassiday excoriated Rick Santorum for not keeping his mouth shut about his religious beliefs.
Hugh Hewitt responded to Cassiday by blasting what he called the "anti-Catholic prejudices of the Manhattan/Beltway media elite." Andrew McCarthy, writing for The Corner at National Review Online, wanted to know why everyone was surprised. When he was in the Illinois state senate, McCarthy reminded readers, Barack Obama voted against legislation to outlaw the killing of infants who survived an abortion.
What I personally find most offensive about the HHS mandate is the shock with which it has been met. Why? This is who Barack Obama is. [Emphasis added.]
Liberal Catholic columnist E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post expressed discomfort with the president's action, too. Maureen Dowd has maintained an uncharacteristic and judicious silence.
On Friday, there was a triple-barrage from the right. First, Charles Krauthammer conducted an autopsy of Mr. Obama's political fortunes. Then, Mark Steyn painted Mr. Obama as Henry VIII in his weekend column , entitled "The Church of Obama." Shades of Ann Coulter again, with her book, The Church of Liberalism!
Writing in The Corner, Steyn elaborated that "the governmentalization of health care is the fastest way to a permanent left-of-center political culture. It redefines the relationship between the citizen and the state in ways that make limited government all but impossible."
Third, of course, was Pat Buchanan himself. Typically, Buchanan took no credit and made no mention of his 1992 speech. On the other heand, he titled his piece: "Obama's Trampling on God's Turf Now."
Most impressive to my eye was a searching essay by Paul A. Rahe, writing in Ricochet.
The Obama administration wasn't silent on Friday, either. It issued its so-called "accommodation" on the DHHS reg. As Michael Walsh pointed out in NRO, however, it changed not one word of the reg issued for comment back in January. As Archbishop Chaput's statement on Sunday indicated, that non-compromise compromise has now been rejected by Catholic and other religious leaders.
In his comment yesterday on the Archbishop of Philadelphia's statement, Hugh Hewitt speculated that the Obama administration's direct assault on the First Amendment's freedom of conscience could turn several light-blue states -- like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Colorado -- red this fall.
Let's hope so. At the moment, however, all we know for sure is that the president has scared the bear yet again. And even if Pope Benedict XVI chooses to address the issue (as he did last year in the U.K.) at the consistory in Rome on February 18 to create a new class of cardinals, the last word will rest with the American voter.
Roar, bear, roar!