The Great Divider

The Weekly Standard | Published on

By Peter Wehner

Print Friendly


In 2008, Barack Obama promised he would put an end to the type of politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism” and he would help us “rediscover our bonds to each other and get out of this constant, petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.”

As president, Obama has not only discarded this core commitment; he has turned it on its head. Republicans aren’t simply people with whom he has philosophical disagreements; they are members of the “Flat Earth Society” and have embraced a budget that demonstrates their “Social Darwinism.” The Republican philosophy is “simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.” The Republican vision is for elderly Americans unable to afford nursing home care, poor children, and children with autism and Down syndrome to “fend for themselves.” The GOP favors “dirtier” air and water. And Republicans in Congress consistently “put party before country.”

The president, then, has signaled that he is going to run a campaign built on crude caricatures and false claims, whether they are directed against Mitt Romney, Congress, or the Supreme Court. No individual or institution is beyond libel.

That this is damaging to our civic and political culture is undeniable and, for the president, wholly irrelevant. He is determined to win at all costs. His approach is summed up in the words of the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis: Just win, baby.

Facing an opponent like Obama requires quick, persistent fact-checking. But that will hardly be enough. The president’s critics can spend all their time chasing Obama’s rabbits down an endless number of holes. Nothing would delight the president more.

What is required when dealing with a man who habitually deconstructs truth is to destroy his public credibility. Voters need to be shown that Obama’s words and claims are, quite literally, unbelievable, whether they have to do with the past or the future, himself or others.

That can be done in a manner that is tough-minded but not mean-spirited​—​by referring to the public record of Obama’s counterfeit charges and broken promises, which are now sufficiently numerous that they could fill the Library of Congress. Among them:

  • During the 2008 campaign, Obama promised to put an end to earmark abuse. Yet in one of his earliest acts as president, he signed an omnibus spending bill that contained more than 8,500 earmarks.
  • Candidate Obama said lobbyists “will not work in my White House.” But upon taking office, he allowed waivers for former lobbyists working in his White House.
  • Obama said he would put an end to “phony accounting.” Yet early on, his administration identified “$2 trillion in savings”​—of which $1.6 trillion was based on the ludicrous assumption that, were it not for Obama, the surge in Iraq would have continued for 10 more years. We also know that the president’s false claim that the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) would cut the deficit was based on double counting.
  • During the 2010 midterm elections, the president declared that super-PACs were a “threat to democracy.” He now embraces them. This flip-flop is similar to what Obama did during the 2008 campaign when he reversed his pledge to seek public financing in the general election.
  • Obama recently warned the Supreme Court that it will be taking an “unprecedented, extraordinary step” if it overturns the Affordable Care Act, because that law was passed by “a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.” Except that the House, despite a large Democratic majority, passed the Affordable Care Act by a very narrow margin (the vote was 219-212). In addition, what Obama calls an “unprecedented” step is, in fact, fairly common. Nor was this Obama’s first attack on the Court. In his 2010 State of the Union address, with members of the Supreme Court in attendance, he claimed that its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission would allow foreign corporations to “spend without limit in our elections.” That is false.
  • As president, Obama and his administration declared (a) he would cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term, (b) unemployment would not exceed 8 percent, (c) he would bend the health care cost curve down, (d) poverty would decrease, and (e) he would fix the housing crisis. In reality, Obama has submitted four budgets with trillion-dollar-plus deficits, March was the 38th consecutive month with unemployment above 8 percent, health care costs have risen, more than 46 million people are in poverty, the largest number in the 50-plus years for which poverty estimates have been published, and the housing crisis has worsened on Obama’s watch.

In ads and speeches, during interviews and through the use of surrogates, Romney and his party need to prosecute their case relentlessly. They need to imprint into the mind of voters a basic proposition: Barack Obama’s claims are worthless. They need to accomplish this with an avalanche of facts and by using Obama’s own words against him.

The effect will be that Americans will appropriately devalue the president’s words. They will, in increasing numbers, reject his claims because they do not trust the source of the claims. This approach relies on a truth as old as the Scriptures, which teach that fresh water and salt water cannot flow from the same spring.

The Romney campaign will have to play defense, but it cannot win the election in that posture. Romney’s challenge is to turn Obama’s compulsively misleading statements against him rather than simply cleaning up after them.

That means Romney has to shatter the illusion that Obama is believable, trustworthy, a man of public integrity. The sooner Romney begins, the better for him—and for the truth.

Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.