During the last three years, in almost every debate -- deficit reduction, taxes, illegal immigration -- Obama has smeared the motives of his political opponents. He suggested that critics of illegal immigration wished to add moats and alligators to help close the border, and that they planned to arrest parents and children on their way to get ice cream. He advised that Latinos "should punish our enemies." He accused opponents who wanted balanced budgets of abandoning children suffering from autism and Down syndrome.
Obama's partisan rhetoric has always been rough. He called his political adversaries on taxes and the debt "hostage takers" who engaged in "hand to hand combat," and needed to be relegated to the proverbial back seat. Obama even suggested that AIG executives were metaphorical terrorists: "They've got a bomb strapped to them and they've got their hand on the trigger."
In an appeal to voters, Obama urged that they not act calmly, but get angry: "I don't want to quell anger. I think people are right to be angry!" The polarizing talk was the logical follow-up to his campaign hype of 2008, when he ridiculed the "clingers" of Pennsylvania, called on his supporters to confront his opponents and "get in their face," and at one point even boasted, "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." His jokes about Nancy Reagan and the Special Olympics were needlessly tasteless and crass.
Obama's inflammatory language and tough metaphors are not all that unusual in the American political tradition. But what is odd is that a habitual participant in brass-knuckles political infighting would call for the sort of civility that he himself did not and will not abide by.
We are now engaged in a continuing debate about debt, taxes and spending. Both sides have vastly different ideas about how to solve our financial problems, and they will continue to embrace tough talk to win over public opinion to their respective sides. We hope for the best argumentation but expect the worst -- democratic politics being what it is. And President Obama, the past master of bare-fisted partisan invective, knows that better than anyone.
So spare us any more of the bottled piety, Mr. President. Instead, just make the argument to the public that borrowing $4 billion a day is still necessary and sustainable -- and explain how it came to be that this post-recession recovery on your watch is the weakest since World War II.