In its lead editorial Sunday, the New York Times plays the race card, accusing Republicans of criticizing President Barack Obama’s foreign policy because he is black. The editors, like many on the left, refuse to acknowledge that it is Obama’s own radical policies, and imperious style, that led to the backlash that delivered Congress to the opposition in the first place. However, since the “paper of record” attempts to rewrite history to back up its claims, the editorial is worth deconstructing.
It is a peculiar, but unmistakable, phenomenon: As Barack Obama’s presidency heads into its twilight, the rage of the Republican establishment toward him is growing louder, angrier and more destructive.
Actually, what is remarkable about the “twilight” of Obama’s presidency is that he refuses to acknowledge his party’s recent historic defeat. Instead of listening to the electorate, he is governing as if nothing happened, enacting more radical policies.
Republican lawmakers in Washington and around the country have been focused on blocking Mr. Obama’s agenda and denigrating him personally since the day he took office in 2009.
A blatant historical lie. The truth: in 2009, Republicans were unsure how to deal with their defeat, and many were eager to appease him. Bill Kristol even wrote on the Times‘ own op-ed page that Republicans ought to give Obama a chance to show that liberalism could be “a service to our country.” That honeymoon ended with the massive stimulus bill of February 2009, when Obama rejected Republican suggestions, telling them simply: “I won.” The result: the rise of the Tea Party movement.
But even against that backdrop, and even by the dismal standards of political discourse today, the tone of the current attacks is disturbing. So is their evident intent — to undermine not just Mr. Obama’s policies, but his very legitimacy as president.
Note how the Times does not acknowledge the tone of Obama’s own attacks. There is no occasion that Obama will not use to denigrate and undermine his critics–not even a supposed “success” like the Iran deal, when he attacked the “inevitable critics” and suggested that Congress could only act in bad faith (“not based on expert analysis, and without offering any reasonable alternative”) in opposing it. He has undermined the legitimacy of Congress–and of the Constitution itself.
It is a line of attack that echoes Republicans’ earlier questioning of Mr. Obama’s American citizenship. Those attacks were blatantly racist in their message — reminding people that Mr. Obama was black, suggesting he was African, and planting the equally false idea that he was secretly Muslim.
Another attempt to rewrite history. The first questions about Obama’s citizenship, and the first attacks on his faith, came directly from the Hillary Clinton camp in 2008. No doubt the Times feels uncomfortable acknowledging that fact on the day that Hillary Clinton announces her new run for the presidency. The fact that a fringe of the GOP later embraced the Birther movement did not change the fact that it started with Clinton, nor make it the basis for Republican opposition.
The current offensive is slightly more subtle, but it is impossible to dismiss the notion that race plays a role in it.
Perhaps the most outrageous example of the attack on the president’s legitimacy was a letter signed by 47 Republican senators to the leadership of Iran saying Mr. Obama had no authority to conclude negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
The charge of racism is ridiculous, made more so by the example the Times chose. The Times also distorts the content of the letter. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) and his colleagues did not say Obama “had no authority to conclude negotiations.” It said he shared that authority with Congress, such that any agreement he did conclude would only be an “executive agreement” and would not be binding on future presidents. The fact that the Times has to lie about the letter is telling.
Try to imagine the outrage from Republicans if a similar group of Democrats had written to the Kremlin in 1986 telling Mikhail Gorbachev that President Ronald Reagan did not have the authority to negotiate a nuclear arms deal at the Reykjavik summit meeting that winter.
Another telling example. The difference between Reykjavik and Lausanne is that Reagan was willing to walk away from talks at Reykjavik! And the fact is that Democrats in Congress undertook many actions that undermined President Reagan and other Republican presidents. There were Ted Kennedy’s overtures to the Soviets, John Kerry’s outreach to the Sandinistas, Nancy Pelosi’s coddling of Assad, and other examples. Does the Times really want to go there? No problem!
There is no functional difference between that example and the Iran talks, except that the congressional Republican caucus does not like Mr. Obama and wants to deny him any policy victory.
If that were true, Republicans would never have joined Democrats in ratifying the New START treaty, which they did in late 2010. That was a “policy victory” for Obama–albeit one denied by Vladimir Putin, who responded by insisting it covered missile defense systems, and later by invading Ukraine. The Obama administration actually lied to Congress about past Russian violations of arms treaties in order to pass New START, so it is no wonder that Congress has become less trusting.
On April 3, Colbert King, a Washington Post columnist summarized a series of actions by Republicans attacking the president’s authority in areas that most Americans thought had been settled by the Civil War. Arizona legislators, for example, have been working on a bill that “prohibits this state or any of its political subdivisions from using any personnel or financial resources to enforce, administer or cooperate with an executive order issued by the president of the United States that has not been affirmed by a vote of Congress and signed into law as prescribed by the United States Constitution.”
Ah, Arizona. That perennial punching bag. Remember the dreaded immigration law that was supposedly racist because it let police check immigrants’ legal status? It was declared unconstitutional–but only after the Supreme Court made clear that it was not actually racist to ask people to prove their legal status. Here we have another deliberate misreading of an Arizona bill, whose intent clearly is to shore up constitutional defenses that Congress–and the media–have failed to guard.
The bill sounds an awful lot like John C. Calhoun’s secessionist screed of 1828, the South Carolina Exposition and Protest. Laurie Roberts of The Arizona Republic wrote that it was just “one of a series of kooky measures aimed at declaring our independence from federal gun laws, from the Affordable Care Act, from the Environmental Protection Agency, from the Department of Justice, from Barack Obama.”
Here we have what might be called “proof by liberal opinion columnist.” A thin reed for a charge of racism, but never mind.
Republicans defend this sort of action by accusing Mr. Obama of acting like a king and citing executive actions he has taken — on immigration and pollution among other things. That’s nonsense. The same Republicans had no objection when President George W. Bush used his executive authority to authorize the torture of terrorism suspects and tap the phones of American citizens. It is not executive orders the Republicans object to; it is Mr. Obama’s policies, and Mr. Obama.
Four points. 1. Obama’s executive actions on immigration are illegal and unconstitutional, as stated 22 times by Obama himself. 2. Opposition to Obama’s executive actions on “pollution” (i.e. carbon dioxide) is being led by the liberal Harvard professor Laurence Tribe–as reported by a paper called the New York Times. 3. Bush’s policies on “torture” were based on interpretations of the law, and his wiretapping policies were explicitly authorized by statutes that Obama supported. 4. Obama’s executive actions are deliberate attempts to evade the law and the Constitution–and he, and the Times, know it.
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who declared war on the new president in 2009 as minority leader and used the filibuster to paralyze the Senate, essentially told foreign governments to ignore the carbon-emission goals Mr. Obama was trying to set by international agreement. Because climate-change deniers in Congress and in some states oppose the effort, setting those goals is pointless, Mr. McConnell pronounced last month.
Again, some facts. McConnell had no filibuster for a significant period between 2009 and 2010, when Democrats held a 60-seat supermajority. He stopped exactly nothing from passing–certainly not climate change legislation, which then-Majority Leader Harry Reid declined to bring to the floor because of Democratic opposition. McConnell did not address foreign governments (à la Cotton) but state governments–and some, including New York, agree with the substance of his criticism.
If this insurrection is driven by something other than a blend of ideological extremism and personal animosity, it is not clear what that might be. But it is ugly, it deepens mistrust of government and it harms the office of the president, not just Mr. Obama.
Opposition to Obama is driven primarily by love of country and Constitution. False accusations of racism, on the other hand, are clearly driven by partisan hatred, and no small amount of sheer stupidity, from the Times‘ leading lights.