An interesting, if subtle, shift in Obama’s tone: He’s taken to openly mocking GOP criticism of his willingness to diplomatically engage hostile foreign leaders.
You saw the new tone on display over the weekend, where Obama was questioned by reporters about the widespread GOP criticism of a warm handshake moment he had with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. GOP Senator John Ensign, for instance, said it was “irresponsible” to be seen “laughing and joking” with him.
Obama replied, in part:
Venezuela is a country whose defense budget is probably 1/600th of the United States’. They own Citgo. It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States. I don’t think anybody can find any evidence that that would do so. Even within this imaginative crowd, I think you would be hard-pressed to paint a scenario in which U.S. interests would be damaged as a consequence of us having a more constructive relationship with Venezuela.
Obama, in short, ridiculed the very idea that we should see Chavez as a threatening figure, and threw in a bit of mockery of the reporters, to boot.
And, just in case you think he's being a little too harsh and divisive, consider the opposition:
Just take a moment. Savor that last sentence there. They want to get us used to hearing the word "fascist" aimed at the POTUS, but they don't want us to think they're extreme or anything.
With "socialism" talk having become tiresome, lazy right-wing voices have decided to climb the attack ladder -- "fascist" is one rung higher than "communist."
"Rhetorically, Republicans are having a very hard time finding something that raises the consciousness of the average voter," said Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party who recently lost a bid to became national party chairman.
Workaday labels like "big spender" and "liberal" have lost their punch, and last fall, Senator John McCain of Arizona and Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska gained little traction during the presidential campaign by linking Mr. Obama's agenda to socialism.
So Mr. Anuzis has turned to provocation with a purpose. He calls the president's domestic agenda "economic fascism."
"We've so overused the word 'socialism' that it no longer has the negative connotation it had 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago," Mr. Anuzis said. "Fascism -- everybody still thinks that's a bad thing."
Well, I certainly can't argue with logic like that.
But Anuzis' perspective is especially interesting. He effectively concedes that the right has overused "socialist," leaving activists like him with no choice but to embrace the worst political epithet they can think of, whether it makes sense or not. The point isn't to make a coherent argument -- perish the thought -- but rather to scare the public with the most incendiary insults available in the right-wing imagination.
Anuzis added that it may sound bad to call the President of the United States a "fascist," but that's only because "we're not used to it." He added, "You've got to be careful using the term 'economic fascism' in the right way, so it doesn't come off as extreme."
Mockery's really the only way to handle people this ridiculous. Excellent choice, Mr. President.