January 29 2013
Keith Koffler’s White House Dossier is one of the best features on the web. On it, Koffler keeps up with the day to day activities of the White House, including the president’s daily schedule. He relays the information with insight and wit.
Given Koffler’s knowledge of the current White House, I was interested in his piece today over at Politico. It is about the president’s demonization of his opponents as “absolutist” in his second inaugural address. Koffler writes:
A nation should be concerned when it seems its leader has tired of the grueling work of democracy.
One of the most remarkable and frightening aspects of President Barack Obama’s inaugural address was his dismissal of his opposition – presumably the House Republican caucus - as “absolutists” who are “without principle.”
They are mucking up Obama’s agenda, and he won’t have it.
“For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay,” Obama said. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.”
Absolutism, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is a form of despotism - “government by an absolute ruler or authority.” That the president of the United States is accusing his democratically-elected opponents of acting in a tyrannical fashion is a remarkable development with potentially profound implications.
Once the president’s opponents have been defined in the American mind as despotically inclined, unsusceptible to reason, and unwilling to play by the normal rules of politics, it is only natural that extreme measures are permitted in response.
This White House hasn’t been shy about governing by fiat. If those who oppose the president can be characterized as unprincipled absolutists, he might be able to accelerate this without criticism. Koffler points out that a press that has accepted the notion that the GOP is unreasonable might be slow to report abuses of power.
So is the president being cynical? It may actually be worse than that:
What’s particularly disconcerting is that this likely is not entirely cynical. That is, Obama and his foot soldiers probably believe that the Republicans are absolutists. This belief will enhance their commitment to fight fire with fire. …
By defining an unwillingness to make progress as “absolutism,” Obama is telling Republicans they do not have a right to their philosophy, which seeks to halt in its tracks the “progress” that threatens to destroy the nation.
Washington’s cognoscenti nod in agreement with the president. But they have been duped by his façade of reasonableness. ...
His ideology, which posits that the spending can continue as long as it is buttressed by tax increases, is a legitimate, if wrongheaded position. But also legitimate is the Republican position that spending increases must be resisted with strong measures.
The GOP has been trying to figure out how to redefine and repackage itself. It also needs to figure out how to redefine and repackage the president. This won’t be easy, given his enormous appeal for the nation’s opinion makers.
Meanwhile, I highly recomend White House Dossier.