June’s three most striking domestic political events thus far all have in common the same force that has uniformly characterized the conservative movement’s opposition to the Obama administration: fomenting frenzy as a political tactic. The former’s painting the federal government as lawless and tyrannical – which has reached a frenzy since Obama took office – was a root cause of the murderous spree unleashed on Las Vegas by two narcissistic ne’er-do-wells, Jared and Amanda Miller.
The political frenzy the Republican Party leadership helped stoke among conservatives over the last six years boomeranged last week to send Virginia Republican Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, to a stunning, historic primary defeat by a little-known Tea Party ideologue. Voters in Cantor’s overwhelmingly White, overwhelmingly conservative congressional district thought his willingness to even discuss immigration reform proved he wasn’t conservative enough to represent them.
And the controversy that’s erupted over the Obama administration’s deal with the Taliban to secure the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl exemplifies – again – the stance the GOP and the larger conservative movement has taken toward nearly any and every administration initiative. That is that the Republican Party, goaded by its echo chamber of conservative pundits, wannabe presidential nominees and talk-show jockeys, reacts not as the “responsible opposition” of the time-honored American political tradition but in a fashion that ranges from hypocritical to demagogic to deranged.
In saying that, I’m not referring to those who have expressed a legitimate difference of opinion from – or, at the least, questions about – the administration’s exchanging five dangerous Talban fighters for Bergdahl. Those differences are worth discussing, even though I do ultimately come down on the side of the president.
No, I mean the “usual” anti-Obama frenzy the right wing has mounted literally since the president’s first inaugural six years ago. Indeed, the first shrieks of the “Bergdahl frenzy” took me back almost to that moment – to August and September 2009, to be exact. That’s when we were bombarded with wild claims that the back-to-school speech Obama was going to broadcast to schoolchildren all over the country via a national hook-up was actually his attempt to indoctrinate them in the tenets of socialism, or communism, or Islam – or all three simultaneously.
Do you remember? Although Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush had also given such speeches, Minnesota Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty declared school children watching the president in their classrooms would be “at a minimum disruptive. Number two, it’s uninvited. … I don’t think he needs to force it upon the nation’s school children.” Florida’s Republican Party chairman condemned it as “an invasive abuse of power.” Mark Steyn, a conservative commentator, accused Obama of following the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in trying to create a “cult of personality at grade-school level.”
Under pressure from conservative legislators and parents, numerous school districts in such states as Missouri, Minnesota, Texas, Virginia, and even Illinois decided not to show the speech.
Of course, the president’s actual speech, as TIME magazine noted amid the controversy, “reads like a paean to individual striving and free market capitalism …. At root, Obama’s message is one of individual responsibility, a disquisition on the freedom of American youth to fail or succeed on their own tenacity and merits.”
In other words, just what you’d expect a president of the United States to say.
But that conservative script of fomenting frenzy continued to be followed through nearly all the debates over Obama’s legislative program whether the topic was Obamacare (remember the “death panels?”), or the gun-control measures advanced in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn. school murders, or the two budget showdowns – when some Republican members of Congress declared that defaulting on the nation’s credit wasn’t a bad idea.
And, of course, who can forget the claim of the “Birther Movement” that Obama isn’t really an American citizen but the lead actor in a worldwide socialist conspiracy to take over the United States.
Before you laugh again at that bizarre notion, you’d do well to consider it as the ultimate plank in a political strategy of fomenting frenzy—which is the deliberate stoking of opposition to a political figure, such as Obama, or an idea, such as immigration reform (which means legitimizing the presence in the U.S. millions of Brown, Spanish-speaking people), or equal rights for Black Americans, based on outright lies, half-truths, and fear.
It’s important to keep that in mind as the debate over the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl goes forward.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.