The Magazine

The Great Divider

Apr 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 30 • By PETER WEHNER
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In 2008, Barack Obama promised he would put an end to the type of politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism” and he would help us “rediscover our bonds to each other and get out of this constant, petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.”

Photo of Obama with a long nose

weekly standard photo illustration; original image, newscom

As president, Obama has not only discarded this core commitment; he has turned it on its head. Republicans aren’t simply people with whom he has philosophical disagreements; they are members of the “Flat Earth Society” and have embraced a budget that demonstrates their “Social Darwinism.” The Republican philosophy is “simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.” The Republican vision is for elderly Americans unable to afford nursing home care, poor children, and children with autism and Down syndrome to “fend for themselves.” The GOP favors “dirtier” air and water. And Republicans in Congress consistently “put party before country.” 

The president, then, has signaled that he is going to run a campaign built on crude caricatures and false claims, whether they are directed against Mitt Romney, Congress, or the Supreme Court. No individual or institution is beyond libel. 

That this is damaging to our civic and political culture is undeniable and, for the president, wholly irrelevant. He is determined to win at all costs. His approach is summed up in the words of the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis: Just win, baby.

Facing an opponent like Obama requires quick, persistent fact-checking. But that will hardly be enough. The president’s critics can spend all their time chasing Obama’s rabbits down an endless number of holes. Nothing would delight the president more. 

What is required when dealing with a man who habitually deconstructs truth is to destroy his public credibility. Voters need to be shown that Obama’s words and claims are, quite literally, unbelievable, whether they have to do with the past or the future, himself or others.

That can be done in a manner that is tough-minded but not mean-spirited​—​by referring to the public record of Obama’s counterfeit charges and broken promises, which are now sufficiently numerous that they could fill the Library of Congress. Among them: 

n During the 2008 campaign, Obama promised to put an end to earmark abuse. Yet in one of his earliest acts as president, he signed an omnibus spending bill that contained more than 8,500 earmarks.

n Candidate Obama said lobbyists “will not work in my White House.” But upon taking office, he allowed waivers for former lobbyists working in his White House. 

n Obama said he would put an end to “phony accounting.” Yet early on, his administration identified “$2 trillion in savings”​—​of which $1.6 trillion was based on the ludicrous assumption that, were it not for Obama, the surge in Iraq would have continued for 10 more years. We also know that the president’s false claim that the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) would cut the deficit was based on double counting.

n During the 2010 midterm elections, the president declared that super-PACs were a “threat to democracy.” He now embraces them. This flip-flop is similar to what Obama did during the 2008 campaign when he reversed his pledge to seek public financing in the general election.

n Obama recently warned the Supreme Court that it will be taking an “unprecedented, extraordinary step” if it overturns the Affordable Care Act, because that law was passed by “a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.” Except that the House, despite a large Democratic majority, passed the Affordable Care Act by a very narrow margin (the vote was 219-212). In addition, what Obama calls an “unprecedented” step is, in fact, fairly common. Nor was this Obama’s first attack on the Court. In his 2010 State of the Union address, with members of the Supreme Court in attendance, he claimed that its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission would allow foreign corporations to “spend without limit in our elections.” That is false. 

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