President Barack Obama is a gentleman: He is deliberative, conciliatory and diplomatic. He believes in bipartisanship to the nth degree; he’s never stooped to down and dirty name-calling, bashing and trashing his political opponents. He even avowed outright political enemies.
There is no record that the Obama White House encouraged counter rallies, marches or those demonstrations complete with grotesque and derogatory caricatures of his opponents on signs and placards. Nor has he waved flags or symbols mocking or taunting his opponents.
Obama has stood above the hate fray aimed at him at every moment of his administration. His acts toward his avowed political enemies have been the diametric opposite of what they have slugged him with. Yet, Obama is coming perilously close to going one step further, a step that poses mortal political danger to him if he takes it. He is close to emboldening the campaign of lies, distortions, vilification and hate against him.
The step came with a gentle nod to the Tea Party in his recent interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” He remarked that there was little for him to criticize in their frustration and anger at his administration. This stray sensitive remark about the Tea Party could be shrugged off as simply a generic political statement acknowledging the palpable disconnect, suspicion and alienation that millions of Americans feel from Washington.
Obama correctly noted that’s what democracy is all about — protest and outrage. Millions of Americans aren’t gun shy at voicing their dislike of high taxes, runaway spending, intrusive government regulations, wars, corruption, duplicity, and deal making, boondoggle obsessed, and nest feathering politicians. But Obama didn’t stop at the generic recognition of public frustrations stoked by the Tea Party over an out of touch Washington. He pitched the sound on the alarm bells to a roar when he hinted through White House advisor David Axelrod that he would work with the Tea Party on issues from spending to the war in Afghanistan.
There might well be some room for common ground agreement on these issues, since the general consensus is that spending has to be reined in and the war damped down at some point. The problem though is the hint of conciliation sends the signal that the president is willing to work with sworn enemies, opens the door wide for two even more perilous concerns. It amounts to tacit recognition that the Tea Party can and will work with the Obama administration.
Not one GOP mainstream leader has given even the remotest indication that that’s in the cards. To think that Tea Party leaders will cross the line and suddenly embrace bipartisan solutions to problems with Obama is beyond fantasy.
A Tea Party embrace will do something that has at times caused frustration and even resentment among liberal and progressive Democrats, and that’s further fuel their resentment and criticism that he’s shunned them on issues from tougher financial reform, a home foreclosures moratorium, sweeping health care reform, a tough consumer watchdog agency, the quick end to the Iraq occupation, a firm date for complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. The risk of an aggressive outreach to the Tea Party when so many Democrats feel slighted by the administration will drive an even deeper wedge between Obama’s still fervent allies, and supporters.
Even if Obama’s outreach to the Tea Party goes nowhere, which is likely, the time and effort expended trying to appease them would add insult to injury for many Obama supporters. The signs, though, are there that Obama may still push ahead on compromise. During his trip to Asia, Obama made well over 100 calls to the new House and Senate GOP members. No mention of how many calls Obama made to the few incoming Democrats or those Democrats who barely squeaked through to win re-election — against Obama-bashing Tea Party-backed GOP opponents. Presumably, encouraging calls were made to them as well.
The Tea Party has proven to be the most intractable, relentless, single focused grassroots political challenge that a sitting Democratic president has faced since the challenge to Lyndon Johnson in 1968 from the Vietnam War activists and antiwar Democrats.
The colossal difference is Obama’s challengers have one goal and one goal only which they have made noisily clear, and that’s to tag him and his administration, as a failed, failed, one term president and presidency. To give aid and comfort to those who will stop at nothing to try and make that happen would be a huge misstep. Put bluntly, Mr. President don’t give in to the Tea Party.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.