Barack Obama was elected on November 4th 2008 and inaugurated on January 20th 2009, but his presidency really began on February 20th, 2009.
That was the day CNBC reporter Rick Santelli unleashed a tirade against the Obama administration’s housing bailout. The Santelli Rant helped give rise to the Tea Party protests and the town hall pushback against socialized medicine. And it was the first inkling of what has come to define the Obama presidency—outrage.
Outrage is nothing new in politics, but it has reached new heights in the age of Obama. Outrage is often built on justifiable and deeply felt frustration. When taken to the extreme, however, it debases our politics and leaves us all worse off.
The ad hominem attack has been both a cause and a consequence of much of the outrage during Obama’s presidency. Think of the most hateful and hurtful adjective you can—Fascist! Nazi! Racist! Terrorist! Un-American!—and you can be sure it’s been hurled at regular intervals by our elected leaders and political commentators at those with whom they disagreed.
The list of liberals who ascribed conservative opposition to Obama’s agenda to racism is a long one. From columnists Eleanor Clift and Maureen Dowd to former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and liberal icons like Fidel Castro, pushback to Obama’s ambitious agenda, was, as comedian Janeane Garofalo put it in reference to the Tea Party protestors (or “tea baggers” as liberals vulgarly called them), “about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up.”
Though race proved the most common (and predictable) line of attack against conservatives, it was by no means the only one. New York Times columnist Frank Rich compared conservative commentators Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin to the mass murderer Joseph Stalin. Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson (FL) said Republicans who opposed the Democrats’ health care reform bill hope Americans “die quickly.”
Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN) called the town hall protestors “political terrorists,” while Jerry Nadler (D-NY) claimed they used “fascist tactic[s].” Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) told a newspaper that protestors were using “close to Brown Shirt tactics…I mean that very seriously.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the protests “un-American” and accused some protestors of carrying Nazi symbols.