The Bully-in-Chief Takes the Bully Pulpit
President Obama's pen and phone and threats to use them could forever transform the meaning of the term "bully pulpit" in our nation's lexicon.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, "bully pulpit" describes "a public office or position of authority that provides its occupant with an outstanding opportunity to speak out on any issue." The term originated with President Theodore Roosevelt, who often used the word "bully" and once said of his presidency: "I have got such a bully pulpit."
Nowadays, though, Roosevelt's use of the word "bully" -- a positive adjective meaning "first rate" or exclamation expressing approval -- occupies the dictionary's number two spot. Today someone hearing the shout "bully, bully!" would probably rush to call 911, automatically assuming Oxford's definition number one -- the negative noun or verb referring to the "strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker."
It is this definition of "bully" that characterizes Obama's pulpit. Instead of hearing an encouraging "bully for you!" from its microphone, we see an intimidating and powerful platform from which the speaker projects "bully" as both the noun and verb.
Speculation over some bullying coming from Governor Chris Christie's office has dominated recent news, but the size of Christie's dais and the span of his state's bridge pales in comparison to the power and reach of the Presidential pulpit. Obama's federal government twists the arms and squeezes the purses and ties up the traffic of the entire nation.
It wasn't supposed to be this way in an Obama presidency. Back in 2004, when he first emerged on the national stage with his famous Democratic National Convention keynote address, he said this of American's faith:
[T]hat we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door; that we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe; that we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution[.]
Today, not only have many lost that faith, some have actually heard that knock on the door, been buried in the red tape, witnessed the cronyism, or suffered the retribution.
Andrew McCarthy recently observed: "A government that creates the climate for bullying is the worst of the bullies." Obama appears to be the government's Bully-in Chief, sitting at the desk where the buck stops and the bullying climate begins.
Kevin Williamson described Obama as the "Front Man" for the "permanent bureaucracy," with a "lawlessness" "as bland and bloodless as the man himself, and practiced openly, as though it were a virtue."
Aaron Goldstein listed more than one reason for a dislike of Obama: his use of the race card, petulance, prickly and disingenuous disposition, lack of humility, dishonesty, "unlimited capacity to overestimate his capabilities," and "delusions of grandeur."
An IBD editorial, after recounting a litany of troubling events, concluded that to "a degree once thought impossible, the presidency has been politicized and its enforcement arms used to pursue and punish Obama's political enemies."
John Hinderaker, after also listing some extraordinary news items, asserted that this administration's "gangsterism has shifted into high gear."
McCarthy similarly reminded us: "a president who knows how to use the mob's 'peer pressure,' who knows that telling a room full of jittery bankers that 'my administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks' is akin to Don Corleone making them an offer they can't refuse."
Other writers have speculated that Obama is a narcissist, a student of Alinksy, a racialist like Derrick Bell, or a product of Chicago politics. Books have been written describing him as an anti-colonialist or a radical socialist. A popular documentary critically explored America's future under his leadership.
Charles Krauthammer dubbed Obama the "divider-in-chief," describing his 2012 re-election campaign as a "slice and dice operation," employing fear, division, and resentment -- or any other means necessary -- to win.
The single word that sums up what all of those perceptive writers and poll respondents implied:
Not the Roosevelt exclamation. Not the adjective that's supposed to describe the Presidential pulpit. Bully the noun and verb -- the dictionary definition number one.
Capitol Hill has experienced the bullying, and Obama's new "pen and phone" strategy and threats to bypass Congress on Iran sanctions are only the latest examples.
In one of his first presidential meetings -- that was supposed to promote bipartisanship in dealing with the economy -- Obama told participants, "I won." In another bipartisan meeting on healthcare reform, he appeared to give Paul Ryan the finger. He insulted the Supreme Court at his SOTU speech.
His Treasury Secretary threatened S&P with "retaliation." His HHS intimidated insurers to comply with its "requests." His Justice Department has often been criticized for its selective law enforcement. The IRS has targeted conservative groups, individuals, and members of their families with audits and behavior changing questionnaires. The FBI investigated campaign contributions by the producer of the documentary mentioned above. And not just one, but several arms of the government knocked at the door of the True the Vote president, Catherine Engelbrecht.
In politics, bullies don't persuade with intelligent discourse or reasoned plans, they rile up mobs with slogans. Bullies order supporters to get in their opponent's faces. Bullies encourage "rogue" behavior in field offices. Bullies publicly promise that "we're gonna punish our enemies, and we're gonna reward our friends." Bullies use pens and phones to walk over coworkers and change the rules.
Our new digital age provides even more power to the bully pulpit. Obama's morphing campaign machine, Organizing for Action (OFA), created a database once described as a "many million-mouthed dog," unleashed whenever he had a policy initiative he wanted to push, a message he needed to disseminate, or a gaffe he wanted to bat down.
A year ago, Rep. Maxine Waters described a powerful database that had "information about everything on every individual in ways that it's never been done before." She wasn't referring to the NSA -- rather Obama's OFA.
And "Hey, remember AttackWatch.com?" quipped Jim Treacher, as he hoped that news of targeting scandals would encourage more people to "see how far this administration is willing to go in order to repress dissent and discourage free speech."
While some argue that Obama is the most threatened president ever, many Americans might instead describe themselves as the most threatened citizens ever. Their government, instead of providing justice, security and a thriving economic environment -- imperils their personal liberty and freedom. Its leader -- instead of inspiring a "united" America as he did in that speech in 2004 -- agitates the nation with appeals to "fairness" and organizes it into "buckets of victims" while he mocks, ignores, and overrules his opposition.
There is another familiar term attributed to Theodore Roosevelt -- the teddy bear. As the story goes, the cute stuffed bear was created in 1902 in Roosevelt's honor, after he refused, claiming it was unsportsmanlike, to shoot a captured bear on a hunting trip in Mississippi.
The picture of Obama in his bully pulpit is anything but teddy-bearish -- neither warm and fuzzy nor sportsmanlike. That portrait may forever transform the role and perceived power of the president in our system of government.
The IBD editorial concluded: "Americans need to reclaim the rule of law soon, or risk losing it forever." Williamson similarly observed: "The real import of Barack Obama's political career will be felt long after he leaves office, in the form of a permanently expanded state that is more assertive of its own interests and more ruthless in punishing its enemies."
That kind of precedent-setting bullying should strike fear in the heart of every citizen, of either party.
And that kind of fear may not be assuaged at the ballot box in 2014 -- since this President, for two more years, will still be standing, armed with a pen and phone, in his bully pulpit.