Sunday, April 12, 2009

Right’s rage at overbearing Obama

The torrent of ideas flowing out of the White House is raising hackles across the US

From The Sunday Times
by Sarah Baxter in Washington
April 12, 2009

A CONSERVATIVE talk show host claims Barack Obama’s policies amount to dousing the American public with petrol and lighting a match. A top adviser to George W Bush calls the vice-president a liar. And a congressman says there are 17 “socialists” in the House of Representatives.

The political invective is turning ugly after the promise of hope and change. Some say it is Obama’s fault for his hyperactivist style of government. Others say it is time the Republicans realised they lost.

The meaning of “Obamaism” – yes, he already has his own “ism” – is being hotly debated. Is it style or substance? The hype about his cool has been overtaken by the realisation on both sides of the divide that Obama meant what he said on the campaign trail about being a transformational president.

In his first three months in office, his administration has put forward a $3.5 trillion budget, produced a rescue plan for banks and bailed out the car industry and is promising a green energy “revolution”, universal healthcare, school reform and an overhaul of immigration.

That’s not counting foreign policy after a week of European summits, dubbed the Obama “apology tour” after he called America “arrogant”, and topped off with a row over whether the president bowed ingratiatingly to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the G20 meeting in London.

There have been diplomatic overtures to Iran, the announcement of a “surge” in Afghani-stan and a demand for $83 billion in supplementary funding for the two wars, including Iraq, which will no longer be known as the “war on terror” but still upsets the left.

On top of it all, Obama turned salesman last week, urging homeowners to refinance their mortgages at the favourable new low interest rates.

“We’re starting to see glimmers of hope across the economy,” he said as the Dow Jones rose by 20% and jobless benefit claims recorded a slight fall.

For George Packer, a liberal commentator writing in The New Yorker, Obamaism is “activist government on every front”. The president’s attempt to preserve the fabric of society is not left-wing but “a pretty good description of what used to pass for conservatism”.

On the right, Peter Wehner argued in Commentary magazine that Obamaism represents the emergence of “European-style social democracy”, which will change America’s social and political landscape.

Moderate “blue dog” Democrats are concerned that Obama is taking on too much. Those who are defending tiny majorities in conservative-leaning districts fear a backlash from voters who worry the president is tilting too far to the left.

The scale of Obama’s ambition is enough to make Republicans see red. Glenn Beck, a Fox News host who has been generating his own headlines with exaggerated outbursts, said: “They’re marching us toward 1984. . . Like it or not, fascism is on the rise.”

Hearing of Obama’s plans for immigration reform, Beck imitated pouring petrol over a guest and lighting a match. “How much more can he disenfranchise us?” he fumed.

Spencer Bachus, a Republican congressman from Alabama, was accused of McCarthyism for saying Congress was pushing Obama too far to the left. “Some of the men and women I work with . . . are socialists,” he said. He has been keeping count. Pressed to explain, he said there were 17, but declined to name names.

Bush’s former aide, Karl Rove, caused a further stir last week after he called Joe Biden, the vice-president, a fantasist and a liar. Biden had recounted a conversation he had had with Bush in the Oval Office. “Well, Joe,” Bush said. “I’m a leader.”

“And I said: ‘Mr President, turn around and look behind you. No one is following’.”

Rove denied the exchange had ever taken place. “I hate to say this, but he’s a serial exaggerator. If I was being unkind, I would say liar.”

Despite the Democrats’ irritation with Rove, White House officials hope to take a leaf out of his book by keeping party activists in a state of permanent mobilisation. Obama’s campaign e-mail list of 13m supporters has already been used to drum up support in Congress for his spending plans.

In another attempt to energise the grass roots, plans are under way for activists from groups such as and the labour organisation Change to Win to meet on Tuesdays in Washington.

Called the Common Purpose project, it is meant to provide “a way for the White House to manage its relationship with some of these independent groups”, according to one of those involved. Ellen Moran, White House communications director, has already turned up to one meeting.

The gathering is modelled on the Republicans’s long-established Wednesday meetings, run by Grover Norquist, the prominent tax reform activist.

But Norquist is sceptical the Democrats’ version will work. Various left-wing groups have been trying to copy it without success for years, he said.

“Our coalition holds together because nobody wants anything at the expense of anybody else. You can’t have healthcare reform that saves money if the labour unions take everything there is and you can’t have money for education workers if it is spent on health. That makes their coalition more brittle than ours.”

Norquist believes the president has pledged far more than he can deliver. But Obama is helped by the ability to raise colossal sums to stave off recession and reflate the economy. Temporarily, at least, there is plenty to go around.

The true nature of Obamaism may be revealed only once the money runs out. Then we will know if his hyperactivism has worked.
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