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December 29, 2013 2:32 PM Immutable Laws in American Politics

By Martin Longman

Frank Schaeffer is shrill, but I take his main point. I have often felt the same way. Yet, I have two problems with his diatribe. First, when you present the way the president has been treated as a figurative lynching, you disallow people to disagree with his decisions and policies in almost any way. It’s as if criticizing how he handled the first debt ceiling fiasco is the equivalent of criticizing a man’s diction while his neck is being fitted in a noose. What you really ought to be doing is racing to his defense before he gets killed.

The second problem I have is that it puts too much emphasis on race. Personally, I remember the 1990’s, and I remember how Bill and Hillary Clinton were accused of murder when one of their closest friends couldn’t hack life in the White House and the mean editorials in the Wall Street Journal, and he decided to take his own life. That’s some cold stuff right there. I remember how Kenneth Starr pursued the president, like Clinton was Moby Dick and he was Captain Ahab, until he nailed him on less than Al Capone’s tax evasion charge. I remember when the House of Representatives, led by Newt Gingrich, actually impeached the president over something many of them were doing themselves.

No doubt, race plays a big part in the way people feel about and treat the president, but you need to subtract everything the Republicans did to Clinton and see what’s left over before you can determine what’s racism and what’s just Republicans freaking out about a Democrat being in their White House. Unless you want to argue that the GOP lynched Bill Clinton, too, “lynching” is probably not the best descriptor of the opposition Obama has faced.

As for white liberals and liberal commentators, no doubt there has been quite a bit of inappropriate idealism and myopia and silly white privilege and expressions of first world problems and lack of realism and misplacing of blame. But being stupid or wrong doesn’t equate to being part of a lynch mob.

It’s better to keep it simple and recognize two things.

First, the country could elect Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia president and the Republicans would treat the Democrats’ most conservative senator as though he were advocating a communist revolution. This seems to be an essential tool in the GOP’s political tool-kit and it will be used completely irrespectively of how the Democrat actually behaves.

Second, that people blame the president when there is gridlock much more than they blame the people who won’t compromise. This is because most people do not properly understand the limitations on the office of the president’s power. And, so, you will get even somewhat savvy political commentators saying stupid things like the president could get more cooperation if he just invited more of his opponents over for dinner.

The lesson is, the GOP will go crazy anytime a Democrat is in the Oval Office, and they will not be properly punished for it by the electorate. This is a seemingly immutable law of American politics, somewhat akin to the law that says that Republican presidents will run up huge deficits and then the party will turn into deficit scolds the moment they are out of the White House.

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