When is the right time to begin bashing Obama?
Everyone knows that within the next few months the GOP must fight fiercely and effectively to derail major aspects of the new president's disastrous left wing agenda.
But conservatives will make a serious mistake if we begin the conflict before Obama even takes office.
The most important factor to remember is that most Americans feel exhausted and weary from a seemingly endless two year campaign and seriously crave a break from politics. Part of the general sense of relief and exultation on election night involved the shattering of an historic racial barrier, of course, but the public also felt gratitude because they sensed that a bitter partisan struggle had at long last lurched, coughed and sputtered to its climactic conclusion. They not only welcomed the unifying, bipartisan tone of both Obama's victory speech and McCain's singularly gracious concession, but embraced the idea that the nation might actually enjoy a needed respite from the daily attacks and "gotcha!" politics.
In that sense, the immediate insistence on demonizing the president-elect conveys precisely the wrong message. One of the reasons the GOP suffered major reverses across the country involved the perception that they practiced more divisive and angry politics than did the Obama-crats, with his fuzzy, feel-good message of hope and change. By a wide margin, poll respondents identified McCain more than Obama as a candidate who spent most of his time attacking rather than offering a positive vision.
In that sense, Republicans in talk radio and elsewhere who greet the new president with instantaneous denunciation as a "thug," or set up a public count-down calendar to the next presidential election, hurt themselves more than Obama. They confirm the already damaging public perception that Republicans know what we're against but offer no coherent vision of what we support.
The angry negativity also helps the GOP avoid the painful soul-searching and re-tooling of the conservative message that faces any viable party after a bitter, sweeping defeat—and that's another reason to postpone the Obama attacks. Focusing on what's wrong with the Democrats allows us to avoid facing what's wrong with us, and figuring out why the public rejected our message in both 2006 and 2008. Trashing our opponents helps us to dodge the blame for public disillusionment with the Republican Party itself– blame that extends well beyond McCain (or Palin) and should rightly include some of the same commentators most eager to return to the partisan fray.
There's nothing improper about tough partisan attacks as long as they focus on substance and significant issues, and constitute a response to some misguided initiatives or bone-headed errors by the other side. We should give Obama the chance to make such mistakes – as he surely will, following the pattern of Bill Clinton, another newly elected, young Democratic hero with seemingly messianic gifts.
Yes, the public expects harsh political warfare in the years ahead but it matters greatly who's the perceived initiator of the conflict. Bush suffered through his entire presidency for the perception that he never delivered on his earnest "uniter-not-a-divider" rhetoric, and that he and Karl Rove– and not the Democrats – created the hostile, toxic atmosphere in Washington.
It's a much smarter strategy to give Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt in his early days as the nation's leader. If we furiously reject any attempts at reconciliation or governing from the center before they're even made, we only encourage the new president to turn sharply to the left—and give him public justification for doing so.
It's more important right now to focus on the spirit of the upcoming holidays – giving thanks, rejoicing in family, demonstrating our commitment to patriotism, peace and good will, and dropping discussions of Obama's birth certificate (what a stupid obsession!) and past radical associations. Surely, even the most embittered battler must welcome the idea of giving rock 'em/sock 'em partisan politics a brief rest. It's also a sure thing that the American people will feel profoundly grateful if we do so.
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