Perhaps it's something about California. Or perhaps the past few weeks have simply cemented President Obama's view that it doesn't matter what he says or does anymore, some people will just hate him.
But he's not backing down on Bowe Bergdahl, and on Saturday, he lobbed a new grenade over the partisan wall.
In a commencement address given for graduates of the University of California at Irvine, Mr. Obama likened climate-change deniers in Congress to people who thought the moon was made of cheese and called them a "fairly serious threat to everybody’s future."
On one hand, Obama might just be at wit's end.
With the shock primary defeat of House majority leader Eric Cantor, Obama's hopes for immigration reform have almost certainly just gone "poof" for this year and perhaps for the rest of his presidency (though that might not be the real message behind the upset at all).
Then there are the whispers of impeaching him because he brought back an American prisoner of war in a swap with the Taliban. He thought that was a good thing.
Now, he's essentially going to moon Congress while attempting to push through by executive action perhaps the most sweeping climate change regulations of his regime, because he knows there isn't the remotest chance Congress will do anything at all.
With his comments Saturday, however, Obama is doing more than blowing a raspberry a recalcitrant Congress.
He's poking fun at almost half of America.
Obama said some members of Congress duck the question of human-induced climate change, otherwise they'd "be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate science is a liberal plot."
Let's put aside for a moment the fact that the overwhelming weight of scientific research and analysis backs Obama on climate change. The fact is that 43 percent of Americans don't agree, and another 9 percent aren't sure, according to a new Bloomberg poll. This statement characterizes the belief of that 43 percent: "I think scientists manipulate their findings for political reasons."
Forty-three percent is a pretty big fringe.
Of course, no president is beloved by every citizen. Forty-three percent of Americans probably disagree with Obama on a whole host of things, from use of force in the Middle East to how best to fold socks.
But Obama isn't mocking them.
To be sure, Obama's frustrations must be enormous. He has tried to govern from something approaching the middle, whether it was the attempt to strike a "grand bargain" with House Speaker John Boehner (R) in 2011 or to call a beer summit to quieten racial tensions in 2009.
Most have failed. Many have blown up in his face spectacularly.
What, he must think, is the point of continuing to reach out to people who have no desire to listen to anything I say? On some level, Saturday must have felt good. At last, it seems, he got to say what he thought without the presidential filter.
Yet the comment brings back shades of 2008, when candidate Obama was speaking at a fundraiser in San Francisco. Addressing the resentment in rust belt Pennsylvania towns, Obama said: "It's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
Clearly, Obama is not a president for the right. But comments like these – and the ones made Saturday – raise the question of how well he understands the right, if at all.
Speaking of the Bergdahl affair, Politico writes:
The White House has been surprised by how much attention has remained on the questions about Bergdahl, from the circumstances of his disappearance to the wild beard his father grew while he was being held that’s even led to Bergdahl’s hometown canceling a celebration. All this, Obama aides say, is in their minds a proxy for the hatred toward the president.
In some respects, it is understandable that the White House would view any dissent on the Bergdahl deal through this lens. A huge study on political polarization by the Pew Research Center came up with these three bullet points, among others, according to Vox:
- Republicans and Democrats hate each other.
- Republicans and Democrats fear each other.
- Politicians want their supporters angry and afraid.
In other words, these are increasingly the lenses that all America uses to look at politics, so it shouldn't be too surprising when politicians use these lenses to look out upon the world.
For Obama, though, the question is whether the frustrations of his first six years in office will lead him more and more simply to punt the red half of America and act within a narrower scope. Politically, there is good sense in that. Congress is currently fairly hostile and is likely only to get worse after this fall's election. "Grand bargains" would not appear to be on the agenda.
Then again, by the measure of the Pew survey, hating, fearing, and stirring anger against your opponent also makes good political sense these days. Whether it is good for the nation is a different question.
[Editor's note: Eric Cantor was misidentified in the original.]