By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
At his inauguration, Barack Obama presented himself as the man who would bring America together. The man who would heal the wounds the nation's partisanship had opened. To borrow a phrase from the man he replaced in the Oval Office, he would be "a uniter," not a divider.
How quickly things can change—especially when the stakes are high. In just six short months Obama, in his bid to restart his health reform effort, has adopted rhetoric so sharp it cuts like a knife. Worse than that, the president has become just what he accuses his critics of being: a fear-monger.
In his speech to Congress, Obama adopted an "us" v. "them" position when he accused opponents of reform of lobbing disingenuous criticisms of the House healthcare package. His language was so strong that it provoked one member, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., to spontaneously call him out on it from the House floor, in violation of the chamber's rules but on point nonetheless.
Obama may claim the House proposal—the only substantive piece of legislation yet assembled and made available for public scrutiny—doesn't make care available to illegal immigrants, won't eventually lead to care being rationed by bureaucratic government entities and doesn't provide for public funding of abortion but there are plenty of responsible, smart experts on healthcare including quite a few doctors who say it does. And plenty of plain, ordinary folks who have read the bill say it does too.
The president is, apparently, threatened by this, so he is drawing sharp lines in the sand. His opponents do not differ in their opinions about what the bill will do; they are "liars" who make "bogus claims." In the battle for the hearts and minds of the American middle, Obama has reduced himself to a name-caller, delegitimizing and demonizing his opponents like a schoolyard bully rather than present an argument that is superior on its merits. Obama is doing exactly what he accuses his opponents of: using "scare tactics instead of honest debate" to carry the day, as he said Saturday in Minneapolis.
Talking about healthcare recently, Obama has adopted messaging points like "It's an anxiety that's keeping more and more Americans awake at night . . . We're not just talking about Americans in poverty either—we're talking about middle-class Americans. In other words, it can happen to anyone."
Or this from Wednesday's speech to the joint session of Congress: "Those who do have insurance have never had less security and stability than they do today." And "More and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick, or won't pay the full cost of care. It happens every day."
"Anxiety"? "Awake at night"? "Happen to anyone"? "Less security and stability"? "Happens every day"? This is the language of fear. Obama is not trying to reassure America; he's trying to frighten America.
Obama is telling everyone in the United States that even if you think everything is okay for you, personally, that it really isn't—and that the rug could be pulled out from under you at anytime. The opponents of healthcare reform have read the bill and are raising criticisms that are based in fact, in what the bill actually says.
It's the president who is raising the hypothetical concerns; it's Obama, and not his critics, who are engaged in fear-mongering.
Obama doesn't want people to think for themselves or to try to understand the issue; he wants them to be afraid and, in their fear, to follow him wherever he intends to take them.