Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 18, 2011

IN DEFENSE OF CANDOR.... Fox News' Dana Perino, in an odd display, went a little over the top yesterday when criticizing President Obama's speech on debt reduction. The president, Perino argued, said "offensive, crazy things" in his remarks. She added that Obama "called the Republicans un-American."

Now, the oft-confused Fox News personality is simply wrong on the merits -- the president didn't accuse Republicans of being "un-American," and this was hardly an "offensive, crazy" speech. Perino's just not very good at the whole "political analysis" thing.

But her bizarre criticism is part of a larger truth -- Republicans are aggressively pushing the line that Obama hurt their feelings. When the president criticized the radical GOP budget plan, and explained (accurately) the extent to which Republicans are responsible for the current budget mess, he was apparently being "uncivil" and "partisan."

As the argument goes, if only the president weren't such a big meanie, GOP leaders might be more inclined to work with him.

This is all rather pathetic, which is why I was glad to see Paul Krugman offer a defense of incivility today. The point isn't to stick up for name-calling or juvenile taunts, but rather, to explain that the two major parties "don't just live in different moral universes, they also live in different intellectual universes.... So when pundits call on the parties to sit down together and talk, the obvious question is, what are they supposed to talk about?"

Sorry to be cynical, but right now "bipartisan" is usually code for assembling some conservative Democrats and ultraconservative Republicans -- all of them with close ties to the wealthy, and many who are wealthy themselves -- and having them proclaim that low taxes on high incomes and drastic cuts in social insurance are the only possible solution.

This would be a corrupt, undemocratic way to make decisions about the shape of our society even if those involved really were wise men with a deep grasp of the issues. It's much worse when many of those at the table are the sort of people who solicit and believe the kind of policy analyses that the Heritage Foundation supplies.

So let's not be civil. Instead, let's have a frank discussion of our differences. In particular, if Democrats believe that Republicans are talking cruel nonsense, they should say so -- and take their case to the voters.

That is, I suspect, an outcome the GOP and its allies fear, which no doubt leads them to push the "the president is being mean to us" line that much more aggressively.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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On NPR's "All Things Considered" on Friday, David Brooks also claimed that Obama called Republicans Anti-American in his speech. Neither the host nor Brook's "opponent" (I think it was E.J. Dionne, but I'm not sure) raised any doubt that that was true. I actually listened to Obama's speech and distinctly remember him saying that he doesn't doubt the Republican's patriotism, just that they have the wrong ideas about how to help America.

Posted by: Alan on April 18, 2011 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

Dana Perino is offensive in her stupidity and vapidness.

Posted by: Gandalf on April 18, 2011 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

I agree they should make cuts on social insurance.

Posted by: Courtney on April 18, 2011 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, poow wittle Wepublicans!

Did the tall black man talk mean about/to you?

After all that's been said and done about and to Obama by the Repbulicans, I thought he was remarkably civil.

These Republicans are sissy-bullies,
"Girly-men" who can dish it out, but can't take it.

MAN UP! GOP! (Girlie Old Pooftah's).

Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 18, 2011 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

If the shoe fits, etc..

Posted by: samsa on April 18, 2011 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Poor babies. The President should be ashamed for what he didn't say.

By the way, if we were smart we would run with the Republicans are unAmerican meme. In addition to being true, it is great branding. Eric and Dana have handed us a gift.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 18, 2011 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

The Fox News response is so predictable and calculated that it would be laughable if so many people didn't actually swallow it whole. Which is of course the whole point. Pay no attention to the billionaires behind the curtain; it's teachers, unions, immigrants, and Acorn who are the real threat.

Posted by: DelCapslock on April 18, 2011 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

This despicable bitch, who stood at the White House podium for years spewing lies and bullshit non-stop is the last one to offer any 'analysis" of anyone....she's a liar and propagandist...nothing more

Posted by: marty on April 18, 2011 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

This is one more aspect of how Republicans play to win and Democrats play to not lose. Every part of our politics is in play because there's no longer a workable national consensus about the social contract. Republicans drive the debate because they not only engineered this, but they invented the rules by which the game is played. Republicans scream about everything, and by sheer force of the decibel level, win. Are they being consciously hypocritical when the call Obama partisan? I doubt you can infer much consciousness if any to their rhetoric. Politics is war and they want to kill. We Democrats gasp and whimper and shake our heads. Until we want to kill them as much as they want to kill us, we'll keep losing.

Posted by: walt on April 18, 2011 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Poor Dana must have really had the vapors when Paul Ryan said this about the ACA:

"They won't call it this, but they believe that a social welfare state is right. They believe that is what America morally should become," Mr. Ryan said. "I believe that is completely antithetical to the American idea, the American project, and what America is about."


Posted by: Newton Whale on April 18, 2011 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Given the sheer viciousness of GOP propaganda going back to the 1990s, their complaints are astonishing. But much can be explained by the mechanism of projection. They have been calling the Democrats un-American for years, and they even deny that Obama is a bona fide American citizen. Now, when a Democratic President offers a forthright and fact-based critique of their policy, all of a sudden they fantasize that he has called them un-American. And no doubt the Fox viewers accept it as true.

Posted by: davidp on April 18, 2011 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Dana's fee-fees are hurt because the Socialist, America-hating Muslim dark-skinned mustard-eating President said mean things about Paul Ryan.

Posted by: g on April 18, 2011 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

Anyone who does not agree that taxes on the wealthy should be reduced, business should be deregulated, and support for the poor and disabled slashed, is shrill and unserious.

Also, we need to maintain support for nice old white people and businesses but cut welfare, which only black and brown people get.

Also, Obama is a Nazi and a communist and a Kenyan, and when he says things we don't agree with he hurts our fee-fees.

How difficult is that to understand? Why do libruls hate Real Americans so very much?

Posted by: bleh on April 18, 2011 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Years ago -- I think it may have been 2002 or 2004 -- I attended an Al Gore speech where Gore said something I'll never forget, because it was a very frank phrase I'd never expected to hear from a prominent Democrat. Gore said the Republicans were engaging the country in a "kind of Cold Civil War." I agreed then, and couldn't agree more now.

Posted by: June on April 18, 2011 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans prefer a sado-masochist relationship with Democrats.

Republicans are supposed to beat the Democrats.

Then Democrats are supposed to thank them.

Whenever Democrats break the script and don't respond as expected, Republicans are first confused and then angry.

Posted by: Jim Ramsey on April 18, 2011 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

To build on what Alan said about Brooks' appearance on NPR Friday, Brooks compared Obama's un-American rhetoric to ... wait for it ... Michele Bachmann!!

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on April 18, 2011 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Tweety Bird, actually, apologized to a Tper for Obama's "comment". He said he didn't believe in calling anyone un-American. The TPer, I believe was the head of the Texas TPers.

Posted by: berttheclock on April 18, 2011 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, I think the GOP's tack here is a rather skillful part of their overall strategy to frame the debate as between the mature, serious Republicans and the partisan, angry Democrats. Not meaning to condone such chutzpah and dishonesty, just saying it makes sense strategically.

Posted by: the_dan on April 18, 2011 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

I have three things to say about their itty bitty hurt feelings ... A) Get off the cross we need the wood. B)Get off the pity pot, guilt only works when it's your mother using it on YOU C) GET OVER IT and GET USED TO IT!!!

Posted by: TurboKitty on April 18, 2011 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

I'm still trying to figure out what in Obama's speech has been interpreted as calling the GOP "un-American". Was it the part where he said that caring for the least among us is an American value?

Posted by: RustyCannon on April 18, 2011 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Absolutely. But this can't happen if "conservative" Democrats continue to be part of the mix.

Posted by: Goldilocks on April 18, 2011 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

Un-american huh?
Guess What he should have done to make it acceptable was to call them traitors like Perino and cohorts called me and many others who opposed bushs folly, the war in Iraq

Posted by: grandpajohn on April 18, 2011 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

"I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it's hell." Harry Truman

Seems Republicans haven't changed much over the past half dozen decades.

Posted by: scott_m on April 18, 2011 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

You will notice how quickly this Obama "statement" became established "Fact".

Why can't the Democrats do the same- repeat ad nauseam, until it's in the dictionary?

Posted by: DAY on April 18, 2011 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

Once again the Rethugs are creating a distraction by pretending to be the injured party. And the Dumbocrats let them. Where are the attack dogs, aside from Krugman, to take on the petulant children parading as members of Congress?

Obama needs to take his partisan speech on the road, and keep hitting them with it over and over again. If the response is whining and wimpering then so be it. Score one, finally, for our side. The president has chosen not to defend or define himself very much for over two years. It's more than time for him to start, assuming it isn't already too late.

Posted by: rrk1 on April 18, 2011 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann is out there saying that Obama is promoting Al-Qaeda in North Africa and that he isn't "on our side anymore."

Posted by: Aidan on April 18, 2011 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

For starters, Republicans are Un-American. that's not being mean, that's just stating facts.

As far as "being mean" to Republicans are concerned, it's a great way to start the day, and if you can ridicule the ignorant fathead in front of other people so they laugh at him, it's even better.

Posted by: TCinLA on April 18, 2011 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Until we want to kill them as much as they want to kill us, we'll keep losing. Posted by: walt

"Kill them politically" of course, though I'd have no difficulty prying their guns from their cold dead fingers.

Posted by: TCinLA on April 18, 2011 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

My Republican mom called me and we had a little discussion about the Ryan plan to end Medicare. She admitted she hasn't paid much attention because she's so busy, busy I might add partly because she and dad are always going to the doctor for this and that (they're both over 80). What came from her was something about George Soros and how rich he is, that the Democrats spent a lot more money than the Republicans on elections, and how the top earners in the country pay most of the taxes. After discussing those items at least she did say that everyone should pay the taxes they owe. I also talked to her about the IRS: that the Rs want to cut funding, about the $330B owed and that the IRS collects $10 for every $1 we spend on that dept. Hopefully she'll think about it.

Posted by: Hmmmmm on April 18, 2011 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

It is rich to hear a representative of a political party that doesn't accept the fact that the President of the United States is an American citizen whine about imagined insults that the President called them "un-American" in a dispute over budget priorities.

Perino knows that accusation is false. But like other right wing talking heads she also knows it is far more profitable to complain about how our uppity black president insulted decent white folks rather than defend why House Republicans just threw granny to the Big Bad Wolf.

Perino may be smart enough to know she is spouting nonsense. But like all other Republican robots, if she wants to keep her job as a useful cog in the Republican Noise Machine she must spout the latest Frank Luntz poll tested nonsense that is designed to inflame the conservative base.

The President did not call Republicans un-American. What he did was challenge Republicans who advertise themselves as the party of "traditional American values" by saying that the budget plan passed by House Republicans last week doesn't resemble the vision of America or its values that the President recognizes.

But of course, a right wing movement that exists to promote a white Christian and largely Southern identity will naturally find it more congenial to convert policy disputes over budget priorities into poll tested pouting that in challenging their revanchist worldview the president also impugned their character.

Posted by: Ted Frier on April 18, 2011 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Aren't Republicans accusing Obama of LITERALLY being un-American?

Posted by: Robert Earle on April 18, 2011 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Perino is wrong. It was me, not the president, who called Republicans un-American. :-P No, wait, I called Ryan's *plan* un-American. Here's what I posted on WM during the president's speech:
I'm liking the direction his speech is taking. He's going after Ryan's plan by rightly painting it as un-American.

What Obama's plan will be exactly I don't know, but so far, so good.
Posted by: Hannah on April 13, 2011


That the rightwing is freaking out over this slight shows they must have perceived the president's remarks the same way I did, though of course they took it personally (as they should).

Do I care if their feelings are hurt? Why should I? These so-called "public servants" obviously don't care that they are hurting us (really hurting us, not just our feelings).

Posted by: Hannah on April 18, 2011 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

As usual, Ted Frier is right on.

Posted by: Hannah on April 18, 2011 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

The President did not say it but perhaps he should have said it. Again as Charles Blow said so eloquently in yesterday's Times:

"More tax cuts would be gluttony in a time of starvation. That is not America. That is a nation about to be plundered, and a people laid to waste."  

Posted by: robert on April 18, 2011 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

'mature responsible republicans'!!! Such a stretch that it bends the mind! They bring a junior rep to the table to write what the 'seniors' haven't the intelligence or guts to write themselves!

Responsible in what regard, to whom, for what reason..To Corporations for donations to regain power!

Where are the people in this equation?


Posted by: jlt on April 18, 2011 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

One of the most revealing - and chilling - descriptions of the problems we face comes from one of Krugman's commenters, "Kyle" of California:

I teach economics. When I explain economic models, based on long held, and proven theory, that in anyway contradict the republican agenda, I always have one student that is there to call me a liberal. I try to go back to the fundamentals that they agreed upon, that where a result of rational deductive logic, and yet when we arrive at the point they don't want to hear, suddenly everything I have done is contrived. I point out that even Milton Friedman agreed with these fundamentals, and still no go. If we can not find any ground on which to discuss issues logically, then we have a partisan divide that is like trying to jump a motorcycle over the grand canyon. (a real one, not a rocket) In which case I worry about Americas future.

So do we.

Posted by: Squeaky McCrinkle on April 18, 2011 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK
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