The right is winning the war against President Obama, and winning it handily. The formula explanation for the right's walkover of the White House is that a pack of GOP orchestrated health care town hall loudmouths and a well-heeled, well-financed, and over media exposed core of GOP attack hounds have rattled Obama, game changed the health care debate, and swayed public opinion against the administration.
That's partly true, but only partly. The right could not win without the White House's tactical stumbles, caution and compromise on core issues, and its gross underestimation of the potency of racial fears, hostility and paranoia. The stumble was to attack and keep attacking Rush Limbaugh and the shrill conservative gabbers. They totally dominate and abuse the airwaves. To pick a fight with them only inflated their importance, presence, and numbers. The attack allowed Limbaugh to cloak himself in martyr's cloth and claim that he was under siege by a bullying, intimidating, and vengeful White House. In radio listener surveys, Limbaugh's ratings soared, and radio affiliates, giddy at the surge in the ratings, played his show up even bigger.
The ratings snapped many shell shocked Congressional Republicans out of their post election daze. They quickly drew a hard and fast line in the sand against any and everything that Obama proposed, health care being at the top of their list. It stiffened the backbone of many cautious Republicans and made them determined not to be bullied, or at least appear not to be bullied, by a mere talk show host into standing up to Obama.
The way to fight the right counterinsurgency was to do exactly what Limbaugh and company did with the airwaves and grassroots conservatives. That is to arouse and organize the legions of young, progressives, blacks, and Hispanic voters who crusaded for Obama. They were passionate for him because they expected him to quickly repair the wreckage Bush made of health care, the economy, the war, civil liberties, the environment, and abortion. They expected Obama to make good on his promise to be a real change president. Instead they've watched in dismay the White House compromise and flat out backslide on ending the wars, single payer health universal health care, and deal cutting with insurance health insurers and pharmaceuticals.
They've grumbled at the White House giveaway of billions to Wall Street greed merchants, banks and brokerage houses, the refusal to press criminal charges against the CIA and Bush officials and operatives for their gross flaunt of international law on torture and wiretapping, and its infuriating pander to red dog Democrats and especially GOP Senators. They have made it clear they will say and do everything they can to kill any program or initiative of Obama's. This has sown disillusion and cynicism among many of his fervent backers.
Obama's worst mistake has been to misread the election results. Much is made that he got more white votes than John Kerry or Al Gore, revved up young whites, and totally exorcised race from the campaign. Obama's win supposedly was final proof that America had finally kicked the racial syndrome. This is the stuff of media talk and wishful thinking. Despite a GOP racked by sex and corruption scandals, an anemic presidential opponent, a laughingstock vice presidential candidate, a collapsed economy and an outgoing GOP president with a rating worse than Herbert Hoover's, McCain still crushed Obama by a twelve point spread among white voters.
The route was not just among old, Deep South unreconstructed or latent bigoted white male voters, but in virtually every voter demographic among whites, including a dead heat with Obama among a majority of younger white voters. This doesn't tell the whole story of the sharp racial divide Obama faces. A sizeable percentage of whites were disgusted enough with Bush's policies to stay home on Election Day, but not disgusted enough with him and his policies to vote for Obama. The Henry Louis Gate's affair and the right's town hall rabble rousing have made more whites wary of Obama's policies. Polls after the Gates outburst showed that a majority of whites condemned Obama for backing Gates and even more ominous expressed grave doubts about his policies. A painful reality is that the crushing majority of whites who oppose Obama or disavow his policies for racial, party, or ideological reasons or personal prejudices, are fast forming the backbone of the radical right's counter insurgency against him.
The radical right has gotten its way in the media with its fist shaking town hall shock troops. But the White House has given the counterinsurgency a generous boost with its fits and starts, and conciliation on health care, and waffling on a total rollback of Bush policies. Obama hasn't lost the war yet, but without a huge battlefield counterattack, defeat may not be far off.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, "The Hutchinson Report" can be heard weekly in Los Angeles at 9:30 AM Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on ktym.com