The Divider-in-Chief

Obama's election slogan: get out the vote to punish your enemies.

“I don't want to pit Red America against Blue America; I want to be the President of the United States of America.” That was of course one of Barack Obama’s signature lines when he was on the campaign trail in 2008. Those words succinctly expressed a dream that has always appealed to the electorate: finding a leader who would put an end to partisan bickering and political propaganda. Americans desperately wanted to believe that Barack Obama was just such a man, but of course he never was. Soon after he took the oath of office, it became apparent that the Great Uniter was going to be as polarizing a president as the nation has seen for quite some time. Indeed, another couple of sentences from the president’s 2008 stump speech come to mind. Obama used them to attack the Bush administration, but they resonate all the more strongly today: “We were promised a uniter, and we got a president who could not even lead the half of the country that voted for him,” Obama said. “We were promised a more ethical and more efficient government, and instead we have a town called Washington that is more corrupt and more wasteful than it was before.”

Today, the president’s centrist façade – one that fooled even some erstwhile conservatives – has been completely stripped away. We don’t have a post-racial, post-partisan president who is going to nurture compromise and understanding. We rather have a president who highlights and exploits racial and ideological divisions for political purposes. We have a president whose idea of compromise is that anyone who disagrees with his policies ought to change their mind or shut up. All of these unseemly tactics – the very tactics that Obama condemned two short years ago – are on full display as Election Day 2010 draws near. Desperate to salvage a Democratic majority in at least one house of Congress, the president is using the politics of fear and division like a sledgehammer, hoping to carve out just enough voting blocs to save the day.

Channeling Harry Reid, Obama recently implied that the Republican Party is the enemy of the Latino community in America. The president said: “If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, ‘We’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us’ … then I think it’s gonna be harder.” He’s not even bothering to try to be subtle anymore. The idea that politicians of either party should do what’s best for all Americans, regardless of race, has been tossed out the window in name of political expediency.

Campaigning in Rhode Island, the president once again dragged out his tired “car in the ditch” metaphor, but with an unfortunate twist. Describing his administration’s soon to be successful (any day now – just you wait and see) efforts to get the economy back on track, Obama said the car would soon be moving again. However: “We can’t have special interests sitting shotgun,” he declared. “We gotta have middle class families up in front. We don’t mind the Republicans joining us. They can come for the ride, but they gotta sit in back.”

Yet there’s more to this statement than meets the eye. It’s an appeal to class warfare. Obama may give occasional lip-service to the free-market, but this administration’s rhetoric seeks to make voters believe that they have only two choices: a country dominated by big corporations, or a country dominated by Big Government. A vote against Obama’s vision, he would have us believe, is a vote to put big oil, Wall Street, inter alia, in the driver’s seat. Indeed, the party line on the Left when it criticizes the Tea Party movement these days is that Tea Partiers are merely shills for corporate America. That’s ludicrous of course, as anyone who has interacted with these salt-of-the-earth protesters knows.

Now, there’s no denying that big businesses played a role in the economic disaster that the nation has endured. But it’s equally true, if not more so, that Big Government did its part to trash the economy as well. Most Americans, who instinctively understand the value of the free market, support a government that uses a light touch to guard against the worst excesses of capitalism, but not a government that puts a stranglehold on initiative, innovation, and enterprise. Obama, who has never earned a dime in the private sector, doesn’t understand this point of view at all, and thus he continues to try and convince voters that if they don’t support the benevolent efforts of his vision of government, then they’re aiding and abetting cigar-smoking robber barons who will steal their savings and enslave their children. The great swathes of the middle class who are not “anti-government,” but who in fact simply want smaller, less-expensive government, are not welcome in the presidential limousine of state. Well, unless they sit in the back and keep our mouths shut of course.

The president’s supporters have dutifully followed his divisive lead. In Kentucky, a activist tried to rush Rand Paul’s car, leading to an ugly incident with a Paul supporter. On “The View,” Joy Behar twice called Sharron Angle, Tea Party favorite and the Republican candidate for Harry Reid’s seat in the U.S. Senate, a “bitch.” Democrats warn African-Americans that each vote for a Republican is a vote for racism, while women are told that the GOP dreams of resurrecting an America in which members of the fairer sex are always barefoot, pregnant, obedient, and thoroughly exploited. This is the latest example of an age-old Democratic strategy: uniting a coalition of supposed victims.

One cannot help but wonder if this “divide and conquer” strategy will ultimately do the president’s party more harm than good. If the Obama administration had a record of success to run on, it might be effective. But, the fact is that all the president has to offer is the promise that it will accomplish something -- someday. There are many Democratic candidates who have been trying to distance themselves from the healthcare bill, the stimulus packages, and the other excesses of the Obama administration. Yet, Obama’s rush to defend his dubious record and to carve out victim classes leaves such candidates less opportunity to move towards to the middle. Like a gambling addict who has sat at the table for far too long, the president has tossed aside any pretense of caution or prudence. He’s all-in; betting this election on the proposition that enough of the electorate can be counted on to respond to fear and division so as to secure his party’s hold on power. It’s a desperate gamble, one that’s very different than the carefully-considered, supposedly centrist bet that Obama made in 2008. Has the president overplayed his hand? We’ll know the answer to that question next week.