Jim Messina likes to talk about punching people. In August 2009, while serving as Deputy Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama at the White House, he told Democrats to “punch back twice as hard” if they were “hit” by protests against Obamacare at town hall meetings. That month there was a wave of violent scuffles at town hall meetings, most of it by left-wing thugs, who also tried to shut down questions from the public.
Now Messina is being celebrated for the thuggish daring of a statement he made to reporter Dan Balz for his book about the 2012 presidential campaign, Collision 2012: “My favorite political philosopher is Mike Tyson…Mike Tyson once said everyone has a plan until you punch them in the face. Then they don’t have a plan anymore.” Messina’s violent metaphor is being hailed as the height of political daring and insight.
What was Messina’s “punch” in 2012? It was a campaign of falsehoods about Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, the worst of which was a claim that Romney was responsible for the death of a worker’s wife from cancer. The ridiculousness of the claim was exceeded only by the shamelessness of the Obama campaign in lying about it–lies for which some of the key players have since been rewarded with plum appointments.
We really have reached a new low in American politics when political consultants are celebrated for using violent imagery–imagery that has, in the personal careers of those same consultants, been linked to actual violence. But while Messina talks a good game, he does not do so well when someone “punches” back–as the American electorate did in 2010, a loss with historic consequences for Messina’s boss and his policy agenda.
It is Messina’s–and, of course, Obama’s–good fortune that the Republican Party chose nominees in 2008 and 2012 who did not feel like “punching” at all. John McCain let Obama get away with his dodges about his membership in Jeremiah Wright’s church–a deep and long-standing association with a racist church that ought to have disqualified Obama, and would have disqualified any white candidate with similar ties.
Similarly, Romney let Obama get away with the Benghazi scandal, after the mainstream media made clear that it was going to take the president’s side. He also, in a larger sense, let Obama get away with Obamacare, partly because Romneycare had been its predecessor. And he did not speak out against Wall Street bailouts–a policy detested by both Republicans and Democrats, but against which Romney failed to find his voice.
It’s also easier to “punch” your opponent in the face when he, or she, has one hand tied. The targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service kept those groups from organizing effectively in the run-up to 2012. The Obama administration and the Obama campaign also singled out Romney donors as public enemies, and also attacked individual journalists and media outlets that dared criticize it.
One of the noblest–and, sadly, forgotten–promises John McCain made in 2008 was to end the “permanent campaign” in American politics. Obama, and minions like Messina, have deliberately taken that campaign to a new level of intensity, division, and hatred. Conservatives have yet to find enough leaders willing to “punch back,” politically speaking. When we do, expect Messina and his ilk to cower like the cowards they are.