Call it a Summit of the Disgruntled.
For those of you not keeping score at home, the Obama administration has:
1. Declared repeatedly that Fox News is not a news organization.
2. Made AHIP its long-sought-for enemy in the healthcare-reform battle.
3. Tried its best to undermine the authority of the US Chamber of Commerce.
Not surprisingly, the tone of the panel was a bit bitter, decrying the Obama administration’s “name-calling."
A vast left-wing conspiracy?
Yet it appears there is more than just the ordinary partisan frustration at work. Since August, the Obama administration has undertaken a clear strategy of seeking to discredit and marginalize some of the most influential conservative voices in Washington, according to a report in Politico.
The result is a Washington turned even more antagonistic. It took President Bush – the self-styled compassionate conservative – hardly more than a year to lose that moniker, and President Obama – elected as a great uniter – is now reportedly embarking on a strategy to emasculate the political right.
But that's how the city works, says political scientist Sidney Milkis. “Partisanship is at least part of the solution to the political challenges he and the country face,” he said at a recent roundtable about partisanship at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.
His argument is that the current partisanship is neither unprecedented nor unusual but rather “unvarnished,” and that all the most consequential presidents in history were also “extraordinary party leaders.”
Obama as provocateur
Indeed, Obama’s actions of recent weeks have the appearance of “rallying the troops.”
Fox News – whose war with the Obama administration has been very open – is only the most obvious target. As the White House has been casting aspersions on Fox News, it has also been meeting directly with executives at some of America’s most powerful firms.
To the Chamber of Commerce, the effort amounts to an end run – bypassing one of Washington’s most powerful lobbying groups in an attempt to undermine its authority.
The White House feels this is necessary because of the Chamber of Commerce’s opposition to some of Obama’s flagship reforms, most importantly cap-and-trade and financial regulation.
Evidence suggests that the White House can have some success in peeling away certain businesses from the Chamber of Commerce. Nike and Apple quit, for example, in protest over the organization's opposition to energy reform.
But this campaign has come at the expense of cordial relations between the White House and the Chamber.
At the beginning of Obama’s term, the Chamber of Commerce backed the president on the stimulus and the bank bailouts. Now, speaking of the apparent war the White House has started, Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said: “Tell ’em to put their damn helmets on.”
The same situation applies to AHIP. In May, administration officials were praising AHIP and other insurers for wanting “to be a part of the solution” after they agreed to voluntary cost-cutting reforms that would result in $2 billion in savings over 10 years.
Earlier this month, however, AHIP released a report that angered the White House and many Democrats. It suggested that healthcare costs for a typical American family would go up – by $20,700 between 2010 and 2019 – if the Senate Finance Committee’s version of healthcare reform passed.
The president responded in his weekly radio address, saying insurers were “ breaking out their massive war chest … for one last fight to save the status quo. They're … funding studies designed to mislead the American people."
Professor Milkis suggested that Obama has used the presidential bully pulpit to its fullest extent, trying to maximize the influence of the presidency, which he argued is more powerful than at any point since Richard Nixon.
Others have drawn different comparisons with Nixon, saying Obama has an "enemies list," as Nixon did.
It appears, however, that the White House has not yet completely cast off its "enemies." Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will speak to the Chamber of Commerce on Nov. 4.
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