Who's the Extremist?
Over the weekend, the president unleashed a new charge against his opponent. Not only is Gov. Romney rich (apparently considered a fatal defect in and of itself), not only has he fired American workers, not only has he transported the family pet on the rooftop of his station wagon, but now he has been found to hold "extreme" views.
The president was not too specific about what these extreme views might be. Presumably they relate to Medicare, abortion rights, gay marriage, climate change, welfare, or whatever specific issue might be on the minds of voters. The president has left it to his surrogates to fill in the blanks. Meanwhile, he hopes to benefit from the Big Lie he has sown -- the idea that it is Romney and not the president himself who is an extremist.
Apparently, someone at the White House sat down and decided that that "extremist" worked with focus groups. In an interview with the Associated Press, Obama let it be known that he thinks Romney is an extremist, and suddenly the entire liberal media jumps into action. On Sunday's Meet the Press, DNC Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz charged Romney with taking an "unrealistic and extreme position" on immigration. On Monday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced an effort to tie twenty GOP House members to Rep. Akin's "extreme agenda." Predictably, every liberal hack from Chris Matthews on down chimed in with attacks, including Matthews's charge that Romney had played the "race card" with his birth certificate joke.
Suddenly, the idea that there should by any restraint on illegal immigration is "extreme." The notion that there should be limits to abortion rights and to the requirement that taxpayers and religious institutions pay for abortion is "extreme." The idea that seeking work should be a requirement for welfare is "extreme." Any suggestion of balancing the federal budget or even of cutting the rate of growth in federal spending is "extreme." In other words, any statement that conflicts with those of the most liberal administration in American history is "extreme."
The fact, of course, is that Barack Obama is an extremist through and through. He has never offered a convincing refutation of the charge that he is a socialist. He has refused to enforce existing law on illegal immigration. He has attempted to compel religious institutions to pay for abortion services -- a clear violation of First Amendment rights. He has increased the national debt by $5 trillion and attempted to increase it by more. He has no plan for saving Medicare other than cutting benefits by $700 billion and increasing premiums for seniors. He has blocked oil and gas exploration, resulting in a 37% decline in new drilling since he took office. And his policies of high taxes and increased regulation have brought about the highest level of sustained unemployment since the Great Depression. So who is the real extremist?
By contrast, Gov. Romney has proposed cutting taxes, reducing regulation, and unleashing entrepreneurial activity by encouraging American businesses. To address excessive regulation, for example, he would repeal ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank, amend Sarbanes-Oxley, and review and eliminate unnecessary regulations imposed over the past four years. This does not sound particularly "extreme." It sounds like an end to the madness that has brought about the current economic malaise. It sounds like a return to the values that made America a great nation.
On the budget, Romney would return federal spending from its current level of 24.3% to its historical level of 18% to 20%. He would immediately cut non-discretionary spending by 5% and return spending to below 2008 levels. When one considers the danger that the mounting federal debt poses to our economy, these proposals are far from extreme. What is extreme is the president's approach of adamantly refusing to cut any federal program while demanding increases every year. Obama's fiscal policy is so extreme, in fact, that not a single member of his own party voted to enact his FY2012 budget proposal.
At the same time that he charged Gov. Romney with extremism, Obama asserted that, if re-elected, he would reach across party lines and govern in a bipartisan manner. This claim was even more astounding than the ludicrous suggestion that Romney is an extremist. Over the past four years, Obama has rejected every effort of Republicans to compromise on the budget, including the August 2011 negotiations with Speaker Boehner. He passed ObamaCare with no attempt to work with Republicans in Congress. He rejected the report of his own bipartisan deficit commission (the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform) headed by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles; none of that committee's recommendations has been implemented.
I suppose that, during an election year, the president's arrogant partisanship is meant to appeal to his liberal base. Liberal donors seem to be enthralled when the president blusters about how far he has come in transforming the country and about the work that remains to be done. That vision of America -- as a helpless, benighted land, dependent on government welfare and crying out to be transformed with or without the consent of Congress -- is exactly what Obama has embraced -- not just during the campaign, but over the past four years. And that view of America really is extreme.
In the Ppesident's mind, America is a backward and benighted country that must be reconstructed along the lines of social equality and secularism, and his re-election campaign follows from this conviction. In his "Romney Hood" speech of August 6, 2012, delivered in Stamford, Connecticut, Obama spoke of "the courage to keep working and to keep fighting and to keep moving forward." That is the classic liberal line -- the call to reform and change a nation that in the liberal view of things is in dire need of reform. The speech drew applause from the partisan audience that showed up for the event. But it betrays the same contempt for ordinary Americans and for America itself that we have heard for the past four years. And that speech really was extreme.
Obama's charge of extremism is a classic example of the sort of rhetorical manipulation that Orwell called the Big Lie. Like Bill Clinton, who campaigned for re-election as a "family man" with Hillary at this side (even as he carried on an affair with Monica Lewinsky and sought to discredit other reports of extramarital affairs), Obama has identified his own greatest weakness and is attempting to turn it against his opponent. Obama believes that if the lie is big enough -- and the suggestion that Romney, not Obama, is an extremist certainly qualifies as a Big Lie -- the public will swallow it. The Romney campaign must not let him get away with it.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and article on American culture, including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).