Mock Mitt Romney for using the term “marvelous.” Warn “unelected” Supreme Court justices that they will face political and economic consequences if they rule Obamacare’s individual mandate unconstitutional.
Scorn the same court sitting just feet away in a State of the Union address. Diss Michigan Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra in the front row of his home district at a company ground-breaking. Invite Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to sit in the front row of your deficit-reduction speech and then gut him for his budget proposal. And so on.
With presidential behavior like this, is it any wonder Washington is more divided than ever?
“It’s condescending. It’s unpresidential. And he’s made it a pattern,” says Hoekstra, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate, who felt the back of the president’s hand in Holland two years ago when Hoekstra and Obama were invited by Korean battery-maker LGChem to open a new plant in Hoekstra’s district — a plant that had received assistance from Obama’s stimulus bill against the then-congressman’s wishes. Like the Supreme slaps, it is out of order for presidents to dump on congressmen at such ceremonies.
“It’s stupid,” says Hoekstra. “You don’t go into a congressman’s hometown and trash him.”
But it’s the Chicago way. And Obama’s poisoning of public discourse and personal attacks on fellow politicians has brought Washington to a virtual halt at time when the country is mired in the slowest post-recession recovery in post-WWII history.
“As soon as you make it personal, you make it hard to work,” says Hoekstra who points out that a divided Washington does not mean that important work can’t get done. “Obama is different than how Bill Clinton would have handled it.” How might Clinton have handled the Holland episode? “He would have said ‘I’m glad to see my friend Pete Hoekstra here. I know we have disagreements but we put those aside today.’”
Hoekstra is even more critical of Obama’s slap at Ryan, a crucial member of Republican leadership — who the president had personally invited to sit in the front row of a public press conference. “In Holland, at least I was invited by the company,” remembers Hoekstra. “But (for his budget presentation) he invited and trashed Paul Ryan.”
Unlike Clinton, that social activist’s in-your-face attitude has never been leavened by running a state. When Clinton lost his Democratic majority in 1994 to a Newt Gingrich-led Congress, he pivoted to governance. “Obama has never been able to switch to the reality of working with John Boehner,” says Hoekstra. “This president has never figured it out. This is why it’s hard.”
The Wall Street Journal described Obama’s attack on the court this week as “rare.” Rare as in it doesn’t happen. It’s why Washington lives under time-honored manners like members calling a fellow pol “my friend from Michigan.”
But Obama prefers the politics of division.
After Obama had gutted Hoekstra in 2010, Hoekstra recalls members of the press corps rushing up to him for comment — intuitively understanding that a line had been crossed. “You just got dissed by the president!” said one reporter. So did Ryan. And Romney. And the Supremes. And … it’s become all too familiar.