The Corner

Why Obama Is Neither Awing His Enemies Nor Inspiring His Friends

The country is resembling the great divides between 2004 and 2008 that broke out over Iraq. This was not supposed to happen, given the fact that Obama once talked about bringing both sides to the table, and that the Iraq war is not as contentious as it once was.

Instead, I think the reason why Obama is proving one of the most polarizing figures in memory is not the usual suspects — the Tea Party, latent racism, the Koch brother conspiracies, etc. — but rather the persona of Obama himself. He has a strange, three-step habit that has the effect of turning off both opponents and his base supporters: (a) the initial audacity-of-hope call for civility, working across the aisle, and bipartisanship in melodic cadences; (b) followed by an unleashing of a Chicago-style assault on his opponents with a wide array of martial imagery (e.g. “hostage takers,” “gun to a knife fight,” “get in their faces,” get “angry,” “kick ass,” etc.), general derision (“moats and alligators,” “back seat,” “punish our enemies”), especially aimed at the affluent (“corporate jet owners,” “millionaires and billionaires,” “those making above $200,000,” “fat-cat,” “at some point” “made enough money,” spread the wealth, redistributive change, unneeded income, etc.). That has the psychological effect of making it nearly impossible for those targeted and caricatured to eventually work out a deal with the president.

And then just when his base is fired up by such combative and confrontational red meat, Obama either votes present and hits the links during debate and argument, or drops the “don’t call my bluff” braggadocio and settles for what he can get. The common denominator here is rhetoric — Obama’s once great gift and now greater nemesis. He sounds much tougher and more divisive to enemies than his later walk back would indicate and he postures as a Chicago-style Alinsky organizer only to disappoint the faithful wanting tough action to follower tougher words.

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