JONATHAN CHAIT SEPTEMBER 14, 2010
Fred Barnes and Karl Rove are outraged that the Obama administration is coordinating a campaign to whip up disapproval against John Boehner. Here's Barnes:
A word comes to mind about the Boehner gambit—unpresidential. Karl Rove, President Bush’s political adviser, offered four words—“nutty, demeaning, useless, ill-conceived.” So far as I know, a premeditated assault by a president on the leader of the opposition (minority) party in the House is unprecedented. Would Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, or any other president even have considered such a tactic? I suspect not.
You suspect not, huh? I suspect yes. Clinton spent most of his presidency dealing with an opposition party that had the majority, so that rules out his presidency by Barnes' definition. But how about George W. Bush's assault on Tom Daschle? Here's a report, via Nexis, from the Washington Times from December 7, 2001:
The White House is escalating its attacks against Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in an all-out drive to overcome Democratic resistance to a tax-cutting economic-stimulus bill that could be critical to the Republican Party's political prospects in the 2002 elections.
After more than two months of bitter Democratic opposition to any significant tax cuts to jump-start the stalled economy, and with polls showing the Republican Party is losing some support in its handling of the economy, President Bush last week ordered senior advisers to take the gloves off and sharpen their rhetoric.
Virtually accusing Mr. Daschle of abandoning his public trust, White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey last week angrily charged the South Dakota Democrat with "an abdication of responsibility" while his country was at war and sinking into a recession.
The country faces a growing "national emergency and Daschle is focusing on things like the farm and railroad retirement bills that have little or no priority right now," he said.
R. Glenn Hubbard, chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, Tuesday warned Senate Democrats to include tax cuts in the stimulus bill or he would advise the president to veto it.
If Mr. Daschle insists on a stimulus bill that is short on tax cuts and any real stimulus, the president "may be well advised simply to let the economy recover on its own," Mr. Hubbard said. The plan that Mr. Daschle was pushing would have "very little stimulus effect, and arguably have a negative effect."
As for Mr. Daschle's charges that the Bush tax cuts caused the economy's downturn, Mr. Hubbard said, "The charges are ludicrous and will be seen as ludicrous."
These and other sharply worded criticisms from White House policy strategists are not random comments. "The orders came down from on high to start getting tougher," a White House official said yesterday.
Rove must have been sick the day the White House came up with this plan. Because there's no way his principled opposition to presidential campaigns against minority leaders would have allowed him to countenance such a campaign. I'm not sure how to explain Fred Barnes' participation in the get-Daschle campaign, which was hilarious and which I noted at the time:
"The South Dakotan's political strategy is obvious if cynical," the Journal said. "He's wrapping his arms tight around a popular President on the war and foreign policy, but on the domestic front he's conducting his own guerrilla war against Mr. Bush, blocking the President's agenda at every turn. And so far he's getting away with it." Barnes quotes Daschle as saying, "I think the American people have actually drawn a distinction between the war effort and domestic policy." Barnes tabs this distinction "crass maneuvering."
You might wonder what exactly is so devious about supporting Bush's foreign agenda but opposing his domestic agenda. We must at least consider the possibility that Daschle actually agrees with the former and disagrees with the latter. After all, that's how many Democrats feel, and neither piece suggests that Daschle doesn't as well. Now, you can easily see why Bush would find Daschle's strategy frustrating. He wants to convert support for the war into support for his prewar program, and Daschle is standing in the way. So Daschle's strategy is inconvenient for Bush. But what makes it immoral? Neither piece says.
Of course, Daschle was the minority leader of the Senate, not the House, but I can't imagine what possible moral distinction you could make between attacking one but not the other. There's also some bonus hypocrisy here in that the underlying cause of the Bush administration's assaults on Daschle was his unwillingness to support "economic stimulus" in the face of a recession that was nowhere near as deep as the current one.
For the record, I have no conceptual problem with the idea of elevating and attacking the Congressional leader of the opposition. I do not think elevating Boehner is a terribly promising strategy.