Understanding the Obama haters
Gary Caruso | Saturday, October 10, 2009
We routinely complain that we hate this or that in our everyday conversations. Sports fans of rival teams famously disdain each other, so much so that in Europe, for example, their “football” fans regularly riot in the stands. I personally hate that song the University of Southern California band quickly plays during their football games constantly at each pause of action on the field. For me, it’s repetitive and monotonous tone is like Chinese water torture: Da, da, da-da, da-da, da, da, da-dum, da-da da, da-dum.
That said, I do not truly hate Coach Pete Carroll or the USC fans. I just don’t like them. I have little in common with them. I live a different lifestyle on the east coast, and I never tan for as long or as golden brown as they appear to be upon arrival at Notre Dame in late October. However, I must admit that I admire the way Carroll transitioned from the pro football ranks to the college game as a multiyear national champion and contender, infinitely much better than Notre Dame’s head coach, Charlie Weis.
Not too long ago – around the year of birth for today’s high school sophomores – national politics deteriorated to a level of incivility. In 1994, Republican house leader Newt Gingrich strategized a way for his party to gain a majority status in Congress. He correctly reasoned that the only way to convince the American public to vote for Republicans was for him to tear down the political status quo on Capitol Hill through a national political campaign. However, he carried his war-like campaign outlook into his style of governance as the new Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. It was an action that polarized the political process from one of dislike to hate. His rule of governance simply rejected compromise, the operational status quo for decades, to a principal that he was always correct, and his opposition was always nefarious.
Gingrich poisoned the well of political discourse by refusing to compromise in an institution founded on serving the public through consensus. In the process, he began to cleanse his own party of the “Rockefeller Republicans,” moderates named after former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Gingrich ignored a tradition that for half a century, ever since World War II, treated the minority political party as the “loyal opposition.” Thus, under Gingrich’s rule, Republican Party policies evolved into a more homogeneous and less tolerant political vision. To them, Democrats had become their enemies.
That change in Gingrich’s outlook, combined with a dwindling of moderate Republicans, also ended the traditionally civil level of disagreement a party voiced against their opposition party’s president.
Instead, Republicans displayed an absolute rancor against President Clinton. Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, presidents had enjoyed a modicum of respect from the “loyal opposition.” Even Richard Nixon, who became ensnarled in a congressional impeachment, could work with the Democratic majority to create new environmental initiatives and change foreign policy to include opening diplomatic relations with Communist China. But under Gingrich, feelings of hatred for Clinton and Democrats replaced civil expressions of disagreement.
Today President Obama reaches time and again to the Republicans in an effort to solve problems in a bipartisan manner. Reminiscent of the Democrat’s 40 years of majority status prior to Gingrich, Republican leaders like Gerald Ford and Bob Michel or Everett Dirksen and Bob Dole shared a slice of the legislative pie through compromise. Some argue that they perpetuated their minority status by not drawing dramatic distinctions between themselves and the Democratic majority like Gingrich had done. Polls show that the American public as a whole seems to prefer action in Washington, but when further polled, individually reject specific solutions from the opposing political party.
Obama’s opposition also stems partly from a 24-hour news cycle reduced to hourly segments on cable channels that feature more partisan perspectives. The media stage has become an entertainment theater catering to like-minded audiences. Those audiences cling to certain beliefs which in turn encourages others to find supporting facts regardless of the truth. It is now possible for some to say absolute falsehoods in hopes that it becomes accepted as truth if repeated enough times.
Perhaps critics of the president, like Ann Coulter, really believe the mean-spirited accusations spurting from their mouths. Or do they posture on the political stage to create television drama? In days past, no media personality dare espouse vile comments like Rush Limbaugh blurts with regularity in an effort to discredit Obama and wish the president’s failure. But we are living in the post-Gingrich world of politics where Obama’s opposition can be as bad as getting that damn USC song stuck in my head.
Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at GaryJCaruso@alumni.nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.