Obama's War on Limbaugh and Fox Will Backfire With Voters

His appeal is as a post-partisan. Picking out enemies in Fox, Rush will hurt him.

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By Doug Heye, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

The president has learned it's easier to burn bridges than build them.

And despite having been elected in part to unify all Americans and put an end to partisan division, the administration is intent on lighting as many fires as it can. In doing so, Obama is essentially creating a liberal version of Richard Nixon's "Enemies List."

We knew the White House would consider Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly as enemies. Taking on an entire cable news outlet (and its viewers), insurance companies, and the United States Chamber of Commerce, however—and to launch these attacks proactively—is another, riskier matter. As a Politico story headlined "Obama Strategy: Marginalize Critics" notes, "Obama's most important advisers miss few opportunities for public and highly partisan shots at his most influential critics."

Which is why we're told later in the story, regarding Obama administration attacks on Fox News, "The White House has cooperated gladly with stories explaining why it is on the warpath with the network." It's an interesting use of the word "gladly." It lets the reader know that not only does the White House want these attacks, but it wants to make certain you know, too, that the Fox News Channel is Public Enemy #1.

Analyzing how the White House has created straw-man enemies, Michael Barone goes further. To critics, Barone wrote in yesterday's Washington Examiner, Obama "has responded with classic Chicago brass knuckles. We'll see how far this kind of thuggery gets him."

As unemployment and deficits rise, legislative priorities languish, and the stimulus money doesn't, er, stimulate the economy, the White House not only needs other topics to distract voters, it needs scapegoats. And it's easiest just to blame someone else. "Why, Barack Obama is the great unifier, nothing can be his fault! Obama inherited all of this! It must be Rush's fault! Republicans are to blame! No, wait, the Chamber of Commerce did it! No, Fox News, too! Did you see what Sean Hannity said last night?"

Blaming others, especially the media, rarely works. At campaign rallies in 1992, President George H.W. Bush prominently held up bumperstickers that read "Annoy the media—re-elect Bush." It didn't work. Annoying the media may be a worthwhile by-product of Republican efforts, but it's not a message that conveys anything—especially to Independents and dissatisfied voters. Nor did anyone in the 1990s who called CNN the "Clinton News Network" change the mind of a single voter.

Similarly, as we begin to look to the 2010 mid-term elections, voters want real answers and real solutions from the man we elected to change how Washington does business. And, these bullying tactics are becoming a narrative that threatens a critical part of Obama's appeal: likeability and sincerity.

The White House should ask itself: "If I'm an independent voter unhappy with Obama's performance so far, am I more likely to blame a news network, TV and radio hosts, a business trade association, or the president himself?" Then act accordingly.

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