"Live not by lies," Alexander Solzhenitsyn enjoined his countrymen shortly before being exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974. This week the political press finally took his advice.
Since August 2011, when President Obama went on a bus tour of Iowa coinciding with the Ames Republican straw poll, the White House has asked the American people to accept the fantasy that the president’s hyper-partisan speeches and appearances are not actually campaign events. The "official" rallies, Obama spokesmen said, would not begin until late in spring of 2012, when at long last the president would "engage" his Republican opponent Mitt Romney.
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What "a load of you know what," as our president might say. Obama’s every word and action is geared toward reelection. His September 2011 address to a joint session of Congress was nothing more than an act of political positioning: Challenge the Republicans to pass a tax-and-spend jobs bill that has no chance of becoming law, Obama’s thinking went, and attack them afterwards as partisan obstructionists. For the incumbent, it would be a win-win.
His February 2012 speech to the United Auto Workers convention had all the trappings of a 1930s labor rally. The president played the role of Agate in this impromptu production of "Waiting for Lefty," whipping-up the workers in an impassioned polemic that reminded the union of who handed them Chrysler and who, like Romney, thought normal bankruptcy laws should apply even when the political interests of the Democratic Party are at stake.
At the beginning of April there was Obama’s savage and over-the-top and demagogic attack on the House Republican budget and its supporters. Delivered at the annual Associated Press luncheon, before an audience of star-struck and laughing journalists, the president accused an entire party of Social Darwinism and of wanting to inflict pain on autistic children. Then the former president of the Harvard Law Review ridiculed Romney’s vocabulary. He repeated the dishonest message a week later to an ecstatic crowd of college students.
The distinction is technical but important: If these speeches are designated campaign events, the Obama campaign must reimburse the government for the massive expense of flying the President around the country and staging elaborate such productions. If they are official government business, however, everything can be done on the taxpayer’s dime. That is why the White House website classifies these speeches as official business. All of the "campaign events" at which the president has spoken in April have been fundraisers.
Such double-talk is signature Obama: deride "politics" and "partisanship" while doing nothing but raise money and blast opponents. That most in the press dutifully repeated the administration’s ridiculous line only encouraged the Chicago Machine, resulting in the last several days of ferocious campaigning on the taxpayer’s dime.
The candidate’s intensity is no surprise. Obama has seen the polls that show his coalition is eroding. His base has three parts: minorities, single women, and young people. His failure to jumpstart American prosperity is giving him trouble with all three. His support among African-Americans may remain sky-high, but his approval among Latinos has fallen, and there is reason to doubt minority turnout will be as heavy in 2012 as it was in the historic 2008 election.
Single women, meanwhile, are as concerned about employment and income as anyone else, which is why liberals have been trying to scare them into believing that President Romney will seize their birth control, change his title to commander, and establish the Republic of Gilead.
As for young people, they are out of work, burdened by student loans, and Obama is stealing their pot.
Damage control time: The president scheduled appearances at three colleges located purely by coincidence in swing states, and booked a guest spot on Jimmy Fallon’s late-night talk show. His objective? Promise to keep loans cheap and, as always, slam the GOP. And do all of this not as a candidate but as a president. Otherwise he’d have to spend some of the cash in his Chicago money bin.
Campaign events? Not at all, Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd Wednesday morning, while refusing to say when the events will begin. But the visuals from the campuses—showing Obama preening and asking, "Can I get an Amen?" as hordes of squealing teenagers answered his call—was too much even for the liberal media to stomach.
"How much longer do we have to pretend these POTUS events aren’t campaign events?" tweeted MSNBC’s Mike O’Brien. "This is campaigning. Just call it that," said the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein. They were echoing ABC’s Jake Tapper, who noted last week that the White House "seemed offended" when asked whether "electoral factors" determined Obama’s travel. Seizing an opportunity, the Republican National Committee lodged a formal complaint with the Government Accountability Office, alleging that the White House was using official funds for electioneering.
The sudden refusal by the media and RNC to participate in the charade got Obama’s attention. By Wednesday evening David Axelrod and Jim Messina were on the phone telling reporters that the president’s reelection would officially kick off Saturday, May 5, with rallies at Ohio State and Virginia Commonwealth University. Just like that, the lie that Obama hasn’t been "campaigning" came to an end. But does anyone seriously doubt that Obama would have postponed his campaign’s official kickoff for as long as possible, if his traditional allies in the media hadn’t called him on it?
Perhaps this is only the beginning. Perhaps the frustration expressed in those tweets augurs a fresh look by the media at Obama’s threefold lie regarding his signature achievement: that Obamacare will lower premiums; "bend the cost curve downward"; and not cause individuals to lose their insurance. Perhaps they will begin noting that Obama’s proposals never bring the budget into balance, that the rationales for the Buffett Rule make absolutely no sense, that it is hard to say the president has been good on national security when Iran continues to arm itself, Syria commits atrocities, Egypt and Iraq go to the dogs, and Russia is ruled by a mafia boss.
If the media do not note these things, then it is up to conservatives and Romney to do it for them. It is up to us all. "So in our timidity," wrote Solzhenitsyn, "let each of us make a choice: Whether consciously, to remain a servant of falsehood—of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one’s family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies—or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one’s children and contemporaries."
Can I get an Amen?