Will it be easier to persuade people that Barack Obama is wrong on the issues or to try to convince them that he is outright evil?
That’s a crucial question facing conservatives as we gear up for fateful election battles in 2010 and 2012.
Based on human nature and political history, the answer to that question ought to be obvious: Americans have often felt that our leaders make mistakes or pursue destructive policies but we have rarely (if ever) believed that they did it deliberately to damage the country. In the last 80 years, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush all got voted out of office by an angry electorate but a majority of the public never embraced the idea that these floundering presidents were actually bad guys. Only during President Nixon’s Watergate scandal did a substantial segment of the population come to believe that their president might well be evil or insane, and that belief led directly to the president’s resignation. The next impeachment crisis turned out very differently, of course: with GOP efforts to portray Bill Clinton as a dangerous ethical monster bringing the president the highest approval ratings of his career from a public that preferred to view him as a lovable (or at least forgivable) rogue.
Despite this history, many conservatives insist on outspokenly demonizing Barack Obama and express self-righteous certainty that these paranoid characterizations represent an effective political strategy. Leading talk show hosts repeatedly declare that the president is pursuing a diabolical, deliberate scheme to wreck the U.S. economy so that a desperate, impoverished populace will welcome the imposition of socialism. A prominent new group called the “Impeach Obama Campaign” asks: “Are you willing to let him construct a totalitarian regime: fascism, socialism, Obamaism… take your pick?” The leaders of this new movement (including former GOP office-holders and prominent political professionals) go on to declare: “Make no mistake. We’re now in the middle of a bloodless coup — the takeover of an entire nation by the hate-America crowd — a cold-blooded gang that despises America’s prosperity, our standing in the world, our trust in God and our generosity and goodness….What can we do to stop this monomaniac, this American dictator?”