Yesterday President Obama denounced Paul Ryan’s plan to reduce the deficit as one that would end America as a “generous and compassionate” nation, and suggested, as the Wall Street Journal notes, that it would pit “children with autism or Down’s syndrome” against “every millionaire and billionaire in our society.” (The president’s busy schedule continues today with three DNC fundraisers in Chicago; the good news is that he can reuse yesterday’s speech at today’s partisan events.)
Some are expressing surprise that Obama demonized the Ryan plan so ferociously after inviting Paul Ryan to attend and with the congressman sitting in front of him. This morning, Joe Scarborough said it was “just not what you want to do when dealing with a crisis of this magnitude,” and Mark Halperin called the decision “weird.”
But this is nothing new for Obama. Recall his demagogic attack on the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case with six justices in front of him, prompting Justice Alito to shake his head in frustration and mouth, “not true.” There was intense argument over whether Obama breached decorum by attacking the justices in front of him, or whether Alito broke decorum by visibly showing his irritation.
Perhaps one of the reasons Obama loves the setting of the grandiose national address is that there is rarely a rebuttal. Any interruption to dispute the facts — like, say, Rep. Joe Wilson yelling out, “You LIE!” during an address to Congress — comes across as rude to the office of the presidency. The Supreme Court is completely unused to being criticized to their faces; members of Congress are used to the back-and-forth of debates on the floor in which every accusation and assertion can be rebutted and cross-examined.
I’m reminded of Saul Alinsky’s Third Rule: Wherever possible, go outside of the experience of your enemy.
UPDATE: Campaign Spot reader Stephen reminds me of another example: “President Obama took a shot at Rep. Pete Hoekstra during an event here Thursday, subtly taunting the Michigan Republican — who was seated in the front row — as among those who opposed the federal stimulus package but showed up at a groundbreaking ceremony funded by it.”
ANOTHER UPDATE: This isn’t quite trashing his invited guest, but early in his presidency, Obama lobbied Rep. Aaron Schock (R., Ill.) to vote for his stimulus plan while in front of an audience. If not an assault, it was an ambush.