The Abuser in Chief
Calling America "lazy" last weekend was only the latest and broadest insult from President Obama. America has become accustomed to Obama's lashing out at entire groups of people. What has been all too little appreciated is his seeming delight in bullying, if not demeaning, individuals face-to-face. He is protected from angry responses not just by the Secret Service, but by the reverence his victims have for the office he holds.
This is a level of respect for the institution of the presidency that Obama does not share or hold dear. For him, the bully pulpit has taken an entirely different -- and disgraceful -- meaning from the one given to it by Teddy Roosevelt. What does it say about Barack Obama that he indulges in personal insults? What does this mean for America?
Barack Obama first rose to national prominence when he gave his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The soaring rhetoric -- there is no white America; there is no black America; there is no blue America or red America; there is the United States of America -- established him as a person who could warm our hearts with promises of unity and not division. He seemed ever so likeable.
But the façade soon slipped when we began to hear the real Barack Obama -- not the one reading so well from the teleprompter that fateful night in Boston. The pose could last for only so long.
The mask began to slip, of course, way back in April 2008, when we learned how Obama really felt about small-town Americans:
[T]hey get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
His handlers punished him with a gag order for the rest of the campaign. After pocketing the presidency, he has felt less restrained. Not only were the ego and the superego unleashed, but so was...well, a lot of bitterness towards people who are not like himself.
Hence, the attacks against policemen (stupid and probably racist for doing their job in Boston by apprehending a suspected criminal, that happened -- too bad for them -- to be a Friend of Barack); greedy doctors (for yanking out kids' tonsils and lopping off legs of diabetic for fun and profit); "fat-cat" bankers; stupid Republicans (who needed Obama's jobs bill legislation broken into bite-sized pieces because they couldn't understand it all at once); and other numberless straw men whom Obama periodically sets up before he sets a match to them. Even his lame and rare attempt at poking fun at himself for being a poor bowler was tarnished by an insensitive comparison to Special Olympians.
Perhaps some of this can be chalked up to partisan campaigning. Obama is always in campaign mode -- his favorite activity other than golfing; basketball; luxuriating away at estates in Martha's Vineyard, Hawaii, and points around the world; and basking in the glow of worshipful supporters.
However, what does it say about Barack Obama the man when he "goes granular" and focuses his ire on individuals? Why bully a particular person or small group of people in front of others and in front of the nation? Why use the power of the presidency to insult and humiliate?
How hypocritical for Obama to deliver these lines at the memorial service for the victims of the Tucson shooting:
At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do," he said, "it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.
He does not practice what he preaches, but then again, has he ever?
This attitude was most notably on display when Obama used the 2010 State of the Union address to chastise the members of the Supreme Court for their decision in the Citizens United case ( a decision that imperiled his own political prospects, as it has led to more fundraising targeting him personally). The assembled jurists do not have to attend the State of the Union speech; they attended as a sign of respect. How was that respect returned? Obama lashed out in a stinging personal rebuke, calling into question their intelligence and legal reasoning. The jurists have never responded, save for a reflexive "you're wrong" wagging of the head by Justice Alito. Obama, constitutional lecturer or not, was wrong.
But there have been a litany of these types of personal attacks and ambushes. Lest we forget, Obama insulted Hillary Clinton during a 2008 debate by saying, "You're likeable enough." How gallant!
But it gets worse.
John McCain was trying to get a point across to president Obama regarding the process by which the health care bill was produced. Obama chose not to respond on the merits, but just to slap McCain down -- letting him know his place -- with the rejoinder "the election is over, John." Surely McCain dealt with worse at the hands of the North Vietnamese, but why did Obama have to taunt him?
Obama revels in his victory, though, and instead of being gracious, he brandishes it with relish. Three days after his inauguration, when the nation was in the throes of financial panic, Congressman Eric Cantor brought a plan to the White House to help America. Obama dismissed it with the boast "Eric, I won." One month later, at a "fiscal responsibility" (how ironic that looks almost three years and trillions of dollars later) summit, Obama singled out Cantor for particular opprobrium: "I'm going to keep on talking to Eric Cantor. Someday, sooner or later, he's going to say, 'Boy, Obama had a good idea.'"
Obama enjoys ambushing people. He invites them to events just to humiliate them in front of an audience.
President Obama invited freshman Republican Congressman Aaron Schock to fly on Air Force One with him for a visit to a Caterpillar plant in Schock's district. Schock was thrilled to hitch a ride -- who wouldn't be? But it was a ruse. Obama was drumming up support for his stimulus bill and wondered out loud if Schock would measure up to the two men who had the seat before him.
Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times gives us a flavor of this treatment:
Said Obama at the plant, "I want to thank Peoria's own Ray LaHood, who is doing outstanding work as my Transportation secretary. You know, Ray comes from a long line of Republicans I love, starting with Bob Michel and -- you know, they're just -- I think there's a common-sense, Midwestern, can-do, bipartisan attitude that Ray represents. And I am so pleased that he's in my Cabinet.
"Now, his successor, Congressman Schock -- where is he? He's back here. He's right here. Stand up, Aaron. This is -- Aaron's still trying to make up his mind about our recovery package. ... So, you know, he has a chance to be in the mold of Bob Michel and Ray LaHood."
Schock is the youngest member of Congress. How courteous was it for the president to lure him into a joint appearance at the plant, merely to put him on the spot like that in front of the assembled employees (and voters) at the plant? Cordial in private, but arm-twisting in public. There is a name for someone like that, and it should not be "President."
People should be wary of appearing at these plant visits by Obama. They are Obama's happy hunting grounds. He meted out the same Schockian treatment to then-Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, who was running for governor at the time. Obama was attending the groundbreaking of yet another advanced car battery factory in Michigan -- a Japanese-owned plant that received stimulus dollars. Hoekstra opposed the stimulus bill but was there for the event. Hoekstra was sitting in the front row. Obama saw an easy -- and cheap -- shot, and he took it.
Scott Johnson of Powerline picked up the story that somehow major media outlets missed (italics in original):
For reasons that remain mysterious to me, Obama seized the opportunity to attack Hoekstra:
There are some folks who want to go back -- who think we should return to the policies that helped to lead to this recession," Obama said later in his comments honoring a new advanced battery factory being built by the company LG Chem. "Some made the political calculation that it's better to obstruct than lend a hand. They said no to the tax cuts, they said no to small business loans, they said no to clean energy projects. It doesn't stop them from coming to ribbon cuttings -- but that's OK.
The president's remarks were both classless and petty. Hoekstra aptly commented: "It demeans the office of the president. It's disappointing. It is unpresidential." Hoekstra added: "This is my home district. These people are paying the taxes that he's handing out today. I'm here to respect the office of the president, and I don't think he reciprocated." Video of Obama's attack and Hoekstra's response is accessible here.
Hoekstra was respecting the office of the president. Were Obama to do the same, he might find that he can gain allies across the aisle -- as did President Clinton.
Instead, Obama seems to delight in ridiculing Republicans in front of America.
Congressman Paul Ryan has earned the respect of millions of Americans for his hard work on the budget and for developing his plan for dealing with the fiscal and debt challenges facing the nation. Earlier this year, Ryan and a few other Republican leaders were specifically invited by Obama to attend one of his speeches. Ryan was given pride of place in the front row. Ryan said that he and others were hopeful that Obama was signaling a shift and a willingness to work with them in the spirit of bipartisanship that Obama preached in 2008. The congressman should have learned that hope was just a four-letter campaign slogan:
However, to Ryan's amazement what he got from Obama, publicly, was not an olive branch at all but Obama poisoning the well! In front of the whole audience Obama lashed out specifically at Rep. Ryan! It was like watching a strict school teacher chastising a wayward school boy in front of the class.
"What came to my mind was: Why did he invite us?" Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said in an interview Thursday. "It's just a wasted opportunity."
The situation was all the more perplexing because Obama has to work with these guys: Camp is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, responsible for trade, taxes and urgent legislation to raise the legal limit on government borrowing. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Tex.) chairs the House Republican Conference. And Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is House Budget Committee chairman and the author of the spending blueprint Obama lacerated as "deeply pessimistic" during his 44-minute address.
At a time when the parties risk economic catastrophe unless they can come together to raise the debt limit, Obama's partisan tone made no sense, Republicans across Capitol Hill said Thursday. Even some Obama allies wondered whether the president had made a tactical error.
Ryan said he should have suspected that something was afoot when he did not see the White House budget director or the secretary of the treasurer at a speech billed as the rollout for Obama's budget plan. (As has been true of so many anticipated Obama plans, what Obama introduced as his budget plan in this case was "vaporware.") Whom did he see? David Plouffe, Obama's senior political adviser.
Obama had again lured Republicans into an ambush. (Memo to the GOP: Priam and his people learned their lesson about accepting gifts when they took in the Trojan Horse. Beware of invitations from Obama.) In his quest to score cheap political points or vent his rage at those who resist his plans, Obama again put partisanship above country. What was needed was comity and maturity, not political ambushes. Washington works best when leaders grease the gears of government by at least being cordial to each other -- but this is a lesson Obama has failed to learn.
Perhaps Barack Obama needs a remedial course from Miss Manners. Not only is his behavior affecting his ability on the domestic front, but it is not helping on the international front, either.
What does it say about a president who insults foreign leaders? The personal insults have multiplied as time goes on. He stalked off for "dinner with the First Lady" when he had differences with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He made a crack about the looks of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to his face. He brushed off a meeting with the leader of our closest ally, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, that elicited a great deal of negative coverage across the pond and, for good measure, returned a bust of Winston Churchill to England. Even Good old Winnie gets the treatment. Obama never has liked colonialist nations, after all.
Barack Obama does not reserve his spite just for the high and mighty. He is an equal-opportunity abuser. He takes on everybody -- protected by the shield of the presidency.
Obama sarcastically suggested that a journalist who asked him a question was "the spokesman for Mitt Romney." He had a temper-tantrum when answering questions from a Texas television reporter who apparently was not giving Obama enough time to answer questions. Even his own secretary of energy, Stephen Chu, saw his rudeness on display. Chu was trying to explain the complexities of the BP oil spill to Obama when, after a mere six slides of Chu's PowerPoint presentation, Obama simply stood up; said, "Steve, I'm done"; and strode out of the room.
If that is how Obama treats friends, it's no wonder that so many people are leaving his administration. Do not be surprised if, once Obama leaves office, the memoirs that follow are filled with stories of ungracious behavior on the part of our president.
Partisan and non-partisan, high and low, domestic and international -- Obama feels entitled to insult a broad swath of people. He has taken the trash-talking appropriate for the basketball court -- if not a schoolyard playground -- and brought it into the public arena.
Presidents are supposed to be above insults. They have a stable of attack dogs to deliver the partisan attacks. Nixon had his Agnew, for example. There is a surfeit of people Obama can rely upon to smear Republicans. Joe Biden is too congenial to be the messenger, but certainly Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid can assume these roles, as can DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who happily attacks Republicans when given the microphone. But despite claims that he outsources the "dirty work" to others, this seems to be the one type of "work" that Obama enjoys doing himself.
Many might be tempted to say that this reflects Obama's outsized ego. He has been coddled, and his path to success to a great extent paved, by others who mentored him. But perhaps there is another dynamic at work. Obama's political career was made in the Democratic stronghold of Cook County. He never had to cut deals across the aisle. Any success he had when he served in Springfield was due to bill-jacking; the hard work across the aisle was done by others, but Obama's political mentor, State Senate President Emil Jones, schemed to have Obama's name attached to the bills so he could make a United States senator out of his protégé. Obama never learned to deal with Republicans, and so he takes personal umbrage when he has to exert himself to work with them (see also my earlier article on Obama's work ethic). Compromise is not in his nature -- nor, apparently, are manners.
In short, Obama personalizes policy disputes and thereby puts himself, and his ego, before the needs of the nation.
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.