After months of their comparisons of Barack Obama to Hitler and Mao have backfired, some on the right seem nervous about going too far, and are offering up increasingly lame criticisms.
For all the hype about energized Republicans and independents abandoning the Democrats and town-hall outrage over President Obama's agenda and tea-party protests, if you look closely, it seems the conservative media are getting a little timid.
Just a few months ago, they were convinced they had Obama and the Democrats on the run. They had suckered (or intimidated) the rest of the media into endlessly reporting the temper-tantrums thrown by a few town hall attendees, treating those tantrum-throwers as representative of the nation as a whole, and ignoring the obvious falsity of the tantrum-throwers' claims. They spread lies about “death panels” and went on and on about rationing and the horrors of government bureaucrats (who needn't worry about profits) replacing insurance company bureaucrats (who are quite concerned with profit) in the health care decision-making process. And they had suckered (or intimidated) the rest of the media into taking seriously their fantasies that millions of people had descended on Washington, D.C., to express their disapproval of President Obama.
They did such a good job of convincing the Beltway media that Barack Obama was on the ropes, they seemed to have bought into it themselves, and went for the political knockout punch. Led by the deeply disturbed Glenn Beck (who announced that his goal was to "take the administration down"), they launched some of the harshest attacks imaginable.
Barack Obama, they told us, was a racist and a socialist. A Stalinist. A Marxist and a Maoist. They claimed he reminded them of Mussolini and of Nixon (even getting a bunch of legitimate reporters to buy into that one). Not only that: He is just like Hitler.
But Godwin's Law is not to be trifled with. Comparisons to Hitler tend to blow up in the speaker's face, and this was no different. The constant barrage of off-the-wall claims -- like the suggestion that Barack Obama was history's greatest monster for urging kids to stay in school -- began to drive home a basic truth about the conservative media who were behind them: These people aren't right in the head.
So some on the right seem to be trying to dial things down, to dissociate themselves from the foaming-at-the-mouth fringes who have come to define their movement. And their criticisms of Barack Obama have become increasingly, well, lame.
Take, for example, the effort by The Washington Times, Fox News, and Matt Drudge to stir outrage over the White House's alleged failure to invite any Republicans to last month's state dinner. In fact, several Republicans had been invited, including the House and Senate minority leaders. But the whining over not being invited over for dinner would have been pathetic even if it were true. This isn't seventh grade. Surely there are more important things to worry about than who hangs out with whom after school. In the meantime, if Republicans want to eat in the White House, they should elect a Republican president.
Then there's the recent complaint that the Senate was going to vote on health care reform after only 10 hours of debate. Or, the right-wing blogger Gateway Pundit put it, “Senate Dems Will Only Deliberate 10 Hours Before Vote to Nationalize Health Care.”
What's wrong with that criticism?
Well, for one thing, it isn't true. The vote in question was not on passage of health care reform (which, in any case, would not “nationalize health care” ). No, the vote was to begin debate on the bill. In other words: the Senate was debating for 10 hours about whether to debate health care reform. Under the guise of supporting debate on health care reform, Gateway Pundit was actually complaining about the Senate voting to debate health care reform.
Finally, it isn't like the Senate -- and the country -- hasn't been debating health care reform for almost a year. (Or, depending on your point of view, for several decades.) And it isn't like the Senate “debate” over the bill is actually a deliberative process, as Gateway Pundit claims. Floor “debates” tend to be more explanatory than deliberative, with members explaining their votes rather than determining them. The Senate could schedule one hour of “debate” prior to voting on passage, or 30 hours, and it wouldn't have much impact on how thoroughly members have considered the issue at this point.
Then there's Fox's let's-throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-hope-something-sticks effort to raise a fuss over President Obama's use of the word “unprecedented.” The less said about that one, the better. Even Glenn Beck suddenly feels the need to announce that he isn't crazy enough to believe the nonsense he's spewing.
Finally, take a look at conservative reaction to President Obama's Afghanistan speech this week. Here's Charles Krauthammer: “It's not exactly the kind of speech that you would have heard from Henry V or Churchill.”
Ooooh ... burn.
But the right-wingers apparently thought this really was a deeply damaging assessment, for they quickly piled on:
- Bill O'Reilly: “I did not see a Winston Churchill-type performance. ... [it was] OK, but not exactly the Gettysburg Address.”
- Sean Hannity: “I didn't hear Winston Churchill.”
- Victor Davis Hanson: "[N]ot Winston Churchill."
- Nile Gardiner: “Barack Obama badly needed to display some Churchillian grit, but there was none on offer.”
Coming after so many months of comparisons of Barack Obama to Hitler and Mao and Stalin, a bunch of conservatives saying that he's no Winston Churchill can only be viewed as praising with faint damnation.
Or maybe Pat Buchanan finally convinced his friends on the Right that comparing someone to Hitler is a compliment.
Jamison Foser is a Senior Fellow at Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog and research and information center based in Washington, D.C. Foser also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web, as well as original commentary. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or sign up to receive his columns by email.