Clinton is the all-but-certain Democratic candidate for president, but hardly anyone on the Republican side is laying a glove on her. The media is all over the Clinton Foundation for taking money — apparently legal, but perhaps not altogether ethical, money — from foreign countries while Hillary Clinton has presumably been preparing to run for president.
And, meanwhile, the headline story continues to be that Republicans are all over Barack Obama, who can’t run again, for supposedly not loving America enough, or at all.
Haven’t we gotten past this? Quick answer: Uh, no.[pullquote]They won’t be running against Obama but they can’t stop running against Obama. The fringe attack lines are still going mainstream. They come from Rep. Mike Coffman and America’s ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani.[/pullquote]
If it all seems so 2012 — back when people like Mike Coffman were saying of Obama “that in his heart, he’s not an American” and Newt Gingrich was on his “Kenyan, anti-colonial” kick — that just means you haven’t been paying attention. It’s 2008, 2012, 2015 and every year in between. Obama paranoia is a constant in our political world. If it’s not a birth certificate, it’s his religion or — you can actually hear this from GOP Rep. Scott Perry on YouTube — it’s his collaboration with the “enemy of freedom” (by which I don’t mean, of course, Hillary Clinton).
The latest round began, as we all know, with Giuliani, once America’s Mayor and now, sadly, a Donald Trump wannabe. If only Rudy could get his own TV show.
It was Giuliani who told a meeting of rich Americans that Obama didn’t love America, whatever that means. I grew up in the era of love-it-or-leave-it bumper stickers — which didn’t make much sense even then — and now for years a significant percentage of Republicans have been stuck on the idea that Obama doesn’t love/won’t leave and can’t accept either.
No one would have paid attention to Giuliani except that Scott Walker, the hot new thing in GOP presidential politics, was also at the dinner. And Walker chose to say nothing to refute the Rudyness or to defend Obama’s patriotism.
Actually, saying nothing might have been his best course. It’s when Walker started answering questions about saying nothing that he got himself in trouble. The right answer for a Republican candidate — see: Marco Rubio, as one example — was that, of course, Obama loves America, but it’s his policies that are questionable.
Walker said, “I’m not going to comment on whether, what the president thinks or not. . . . I’ll tell you I love America, and I think there are plenty of people, Democrat, Republican, independent and everyone in between, who love this country.”
That was just the beginning. In a follow-up interview, the Washington Post asked Walker if he believed Obama when he said he was a Christian, and Walker said “I don’t know,” leading to the obvious question: Which answer is the more dangerous kind of pandering? I’ll go with America-hater, but it’s a close call.
None of this may hurt Walker in the GOP primaries, but the reason the Wisconsin governor suddenly got so hot is that he’s seen as a hard-nosed conservative who seemed able to also talk to moderates. And worse still, every conceivable GOP candidate is now being asked whether Obama loves America, and whatever the right response, it’s clearly the wrong question to have to answer.
American presidents pretty much all love America. It’s part of the job description. It’s harder to define exactly what loving America is — I’m guessing that Rudy and I see the whole thing differently, and not just because he’s a Yankees fan — but Giuliani goes so far as to accuse Obama of not loving actual Americans, including American voters who elected him twice.
In Rudy’s words, ones that will haunt him forever: “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”
I’m sure Walker didn’t agree with Giuliani. I don’t know if Giuliani agreed with Giuliani. It’s just as clear, though, that Walker didn’t quite know how to say so, which suggests a larger problem.
Demonizing your opponent — from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama — is the modern product of red-blue, cable-TV-news, Internet-driven choosing up of sides. It’s not enough to question policies. We have to question motives. And so, from the fringes, Clinton killed Vince Foster and Bush blew up the World Trade Center. But Obama is different because, in his case, the fringes have gone mainstream. It’s from Mike Coffman. It’s from America’s ex-Mayor.
And when the why-is-this-so question is inevitably asked, the inevitable answers divide us even more. As Vox’s Ezra Klein wrote the other day, can you really not love America when your vice-president is literally America-loving Joe Biden?
Obama will be president for nearly two more years, and you don’t have to be Karl Rove to figure out that the best strategy for any Republican candidate will be to tie Hillary Clinton to Obama whenever possible. Except for now, of course, when Walker helped Giuliani make defending Obama all too easy.[Photo by Barry Hackner.]