This article originally appears at The Moderate Voice
It was just a shopworn political gesture when you come right down to it. Two popular politicians giving each other a man hug at a time when both were riding sky high in the polls. President Obama’s approval rating was still above 60% and Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s numbers weren’t too far behind when the two men embraced at a town hall meeting to drum up support for the stim bill. Both hoped the gesture would cause a little political magic to rub off on themselves, transferring the popularity each was enjoying to their counterpart. To posit anything more than that from this incident is nonsensical.
What has happened to both men since is a story in itself. But because Charlie Crist is mulling over whether he should continue in the Florida senate race as a Republican or run as an independent , the embrace with President Obama has taken on meaning and portent far beyond a forgettable political Kabuki dance. The hug has angered many conservatives and is offered as proof that Crist is unworthy to be a senator from Florida.
Why? Apparently, the embrace was proof that Charlie Crist does not hate — or perhaps does not oppose — Barack Obama…enough. Talk all you want to about litmus tests for abortion, gay marriage, taxes, spending, or anything else. The fact is, the number one litmus test for conservatives to judge a candidate for office is the depth of their partisan hatred for the President and his party.
Any recognition that the president has done something good for the country, or any hint that a politician agrees with Obama on anything, is likely to inspire fits of apoplexy by “true” conservatives against the candidate who dared utter Obama’s name with a positive spin.
I’m not talking about voting for him — something Chris Buckley, Colin Powell, and other nominal Republicans who announced their intention to support Obama during the 2008 campaign have on their consciences at this point. They are part of the problem, and deserve no favors from conservatives or Republicans. They arrogantly dismissed warnings about the ideological nature of the president as well as his far left liberalism. They chose to believe otherwise and most of them, as far as I can tell, regret their choice.
But the presidency is a unique office in that it truly does represent the most fundamental expression of the people in our democratic republic. To strenuously oppose a president from the other party is to be expected. But it is also expected that he deserves support when he does something with which you agree. Only by viewing what Barack Obama does through an excessively partisan lens can one fail to see a couple of instances where the president has done something conservatives can support.
But here’s where modern conservatism has gone off the rails, off the deep end, and has fallen into a pit of poisonous irrationality. By judging politicians using the standard of 100% opposition to the president, conservatives are asking that legislator to go to Washington with his hands tied. If the president proposes something that the lawmaker knows will benefit his district or state, must he oppose the measure simply because it is from a member of the opposition?
“I’m at the point where it doesn’t matter if we win if we don’t believe in anything. … There’s no need to nursemaid somebody to the general election if they’re just going to come up here and vote like the Democrats do.”
“Vote like the Democrats do?” Really? Or is it “vote with the Democrats when the interests of my constituents are served?” Same thing, senator?
DeMint also famously said, “I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.” It is a walloping exaggeration to say that GOP legislators who don’t toe the party line 100% of the time don’t have any principles. That’s nonsense. DeMint and “true” conservatives can deny it all they want but the result of their star chamber judgments about conservatives and Republicans who refuse to join in every wild criticism directed against the president are charges of apostasy and squishiness.
A good example is the casual, inappropriate use of the terms “socialist” to describe the president and “regime” to characterize his administration.
And he’s right, my use of the word regime is to connote an authoritarian government. And it fits. It is a regime! They’re governing against the will of the people, the election be damned. Public opinion be damned. The budget be damned. The Constitution be damned. What the hell else is it if not a regime?
I hate to point out the obvious, but if we truly lived in an “authoritarian” regime, Rush Limbaugh would find himself in a camp or prison somewhere. Instead, he has gotten fabulously wealthy spouting nonsense like the above and is adored on the right.
And why should the 2008 election “be damned?” It’s not much of a secret that 63 million Americans voted for Obama for president — about 7 million more than voted for John McCain. If Rush wants to live in an authoritarian regime, he’s making a damn good start on it by refusing to recognize the legitimate leader of our republic. In fact, Mr. Limbaugh’s attitude is consistent with that of a juvenile who didn’t get what he wanted for his birthday and trashes his parents to his friends.
“Regime” is a word used to describe Latin American Banana Republics or Central African dictatorships - not the administration of a democratically elected president whose legitimacy has been confirmed by 63 million of his fellow citizens.
No, it is not seditious to say otherwise. And of course, the Democrats and liberals continuously used the word “regime” to describe the Bush Administration for 8 years. That doesn’t make it right for conservatives to use it. Indeed, it is always a puzzlement when the right apes the absolute worst traits of the left when criticizing the opposition. What is gained by using the exact same criticisms you so virulently objected to when the opposition used them on your guy? The hypocrisy is astounding.
As for the “Obama is a socialist” meme, it’s getting tiresome. When the socialists themselves can’t stand the president, it makes the right look idiotic to call the president something that more than 60% of Americans believe him not to be. I keep waiting for Obama and the Democrats to take over the economy but it just isn’t happening.
Maybe next year.
We used to pride ourselves on our ability to compromise with one’s political foes to pass legislation to benefit the people. Now, it’s seen as a sign of partisan betrayal by the purists on both sides (Joe Lieberman anyone?). At the absolute worst possible time in American history, the inflamed passions of partisan warfare are preventing us from addressing problems that have the potential to bring the US down.
Charlie Crist is not my first choice for GOP candidate for the senate in Florida, Marco Rubio is. Crist should be judged on his record - reason enough to reject him. But when Crist’s coziness with President Obama plays a large role in the animus felt by the right toward his candidacy, something is radically wrong with the purist’s idea of governance.
Politicians have a job to do; represent their constituents in Washington. To do that job well, they must work with the opposition - especially if they are in the minority - to put their imprint on measures that benefit the people in their district or state. If they go to Washington and mindlessly oppose anything the president or congress might do simply because getting something done might reflect well on the party in power, they do not deserve to be re-elected.
Yes, there are some bridges that cannot be crossed; national health insurance reform, cap and trade, EFCA, and some of the more insidious proposals to end run Congress using the EPA and other agencies. The right must stand as one against these injurious policies. But other measures where the right should have input can be improved tremendously. Financial reform, entitlement reform, and other proposals by the president that would benefit most Americans need conservative ideas to work well. Alas, despite opposing Obama on 90% of his agenda, cooperating on these and other measures would sign the death warrant of some Republican’s political careers.
This is the price we pay for our radical, excessive partisanship. By making it impossible to help the Democrats govern, we harm the country. That’s the bottom line. Not opposing Obama “enough” should not be a litmus test for supporting politicians who take their responsibility to govern the country seriously.