Charles Krauthammer devotes virtually his entire column today to an extended expression of outrage over Obama’s claim that Republicans are putting party before country — that some GOPers in Congress “would rather see their opponents lose than see America win.”
“Charging one’s opponents with bad faith is the ultimate political ad hominem,” Krauthammer says, adding that Obama’s “accusations of bad faith” are “the equivalent of branding Republicans enemies of the people.”
Duly noted. And then, tucked away at the very end of the column, we see Krauthammer doing exactly the same thing to Obama:
This from a man who has cagily refused to propose a single structural reform to entitlements in his three years in office. A man who ordered that the Afghan surge be unwound by September 2012, a date that makes no military sense (it occurs during the fighting season), a date not recommended by his commanders, a date whose sole purpose is to give Obama political relief on the eve of the 2012 election.
In the very same column expressing outrage at Obama for accusing Republicans of putting politics before country, Krauthammer accuses the President of grounding a major decision involving war and national security in nothing but his own political needs.
But consider the larger context for Krauthammer’s outrage about Obama’s “bad faith” charge. Variations of the argument that Obama harbors ill intentions towards America; that his cultural identity is suspect; that his values are unsettingly alien; and that his commitment to American greatness is still an open question have all been voiced countless times by countless Republican officials and conservative commentators for literally years now.
All the frontrunners for the GOP nomination for president are on record advancing such arguments. When Rick Perry was asked if Obama loves America, he responded: “You need to ask him.” Michele Bachmann has said of Obama: “I’m very concerned that he may have anti-American views.” Romney has been a bit more subtle, accusing Obama of harboring “counterfeit values” that would “change the very character of America.” Romney has stated: “I believe in the greatness of America,” clearly insinuating that Obama doesn’t. And so on.
Is it wrong for Obama to accuse some Republicans in Congress of putting party before country?
Jonathan Chait makes the case that Obama is right, though he concedes the evidence is circumstantial. The most charitable case for recent GOP conduct is that many Republicans probably thought using the debt ceiling as leverage to extract maximum spending cuts was the right thing for the country. Many others probably believed in good faith that default would be good for the country. Some Republicans do seem to see damaging Obama as their number one objective, but they may also genuinely believe ousting the Kenyan Muslim Marxist in the White House is the only way to prevent the country from sliding into permanent ruin.
The case against the GOP often rests on Mitch McConnell’s now-infamous revelation that Republicans sought to deny Obama’s proposals bipartisan support at all costs, in order to prevent the public from accepting them. This, however, is inconclusive: It does not preclude the possibility that McConnell also believes Obama’s policies would be disastrous for the country. As Chait notes, it’s almost impossible to disentangle the web of motives that drive political figures. Partisans tend to believe that victory for their party is imperative for the good of the country. That’s what makes them partisan. The “party before country” accusation isn’t designed to be a provable charge, and while it will remain a permanent feature of our politics, it’s probably a waste of our time in both directions.
But it is a demonstrable fact that Republicans and conservatives have made the suggestion of dark and nefarious motives far more central to their case against Obama than he ever has against them. Until leading figures stop regularly trafficking in vague innuendo about Obama’s patriotism, cultural instincts, alien values and commitment to America, the right’s outraged response when the “bad faith” charge is turned in their direction will continue to come across as completely fraudulent.