Obama vs. his enemies
Does President Obama still think he can charm his opponents? To save his presidency, he must take them on.
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No one was better at making or finding enemies than Richard Nixon. For decades, he accused opponents of being cozy with communists, a menace he greatly exaggerated. But, when Nixon became president and later pals with the communist leaders of China and the Soviet Union, he had to create new enemies. So he exploited white fears of black street crime and forced busing. It succeeded in wooing white Southern Democrats disaffected by President Johnson’s civil rights agenda into the Republican fold, where they remain today.Skip to next paragraph
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Harry Truman used the same communist threat to get his way with a miserly Congress. Shortly after World War II, a depleted Britain needed reconstruction loans. Prof. Walter Burdick of Elmhurst College told me: “Senator Arthur Vandenberg [R] of Michigan advised Truman to ‘scare the hell out of Congress’ to get the money other Republicans wanted to use to balance the budget and pay for the war. Harry did it, and it worked.” Fear is not always a negative tactic. Truman used the same ploy to pass the much-needed Marshall Plan.
Truman and every Democrat who ran for the White House for the next half century berated Republican Herbert Hoover for the Depression. Decades after the 1929 crash, I recall Jimmy Carter confiding he “hated” to have to castigate “poor old Herbert Hoover,” whom he confessed he really liked. Similarly, even if he doesn’t like to do it, Obama seems to be embracing Bush as his No. 1 adversary. For being asleep at the switch while America slid into a great recession, Bush is a ripe target.
This is a crucial moment in Obama’s presidency. It requires an element of leadership that he’s so far not shown. Obama has read too much law and not enough Shakespeare. In “Henry V,” King Henry says, “In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility.”
But Obama’s political enemies war against him daily, so his only option may be to follow Henry’s next words: “But when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger; Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard-favor’d rage; Then lend the eye a terrible aspect.”
Presidential politics is not for the faint of heart.