During Election 2008, when this sort of rhetoric began, it wasn't persuasive, but at least the folks trafficking in it had the excuse that Obama was a young, inexperienced senator. Insofar as it's impossible to tell what any president might do once he gets into the White House, so it was with Obama, and surely many who voted for him never thought that he'd launch a war against Libya or push for the Iraqi government to permit U.S. troops to stay in the country after 2011.
But this isn't 2007.
Podhoretz no longer has any excuse for writing as if the best guide to what Obama will do as president is found in the most fiery sermons of Rev. Wright and the long ago domestic terrorism of Ayres. When the leftist radicals of the 1960s closed out that decade, Obama was 9 years old. Four decades have passed. And Obama has been in the White House for three years.
Ponder his record.
Were the Wall Street bailouts the act of a 1960s leftist radical? How about the corporatist health care reform bill that every mainstream Democrat embraced, and that was vociferously criticized by the far left? Or the appointments of Larry Summers, Hilary Clinton, and Tim Geithner?
Are Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor leftist radicals? How would the Weather Underground feel about the extension of the PATRIOT Act and the Bush tax cuts? Were the radical leftists in the 1960s yearning to empower the FBI and pushing the invocation of the state secrets privilege every time someone sued the government for violating their civil rights? Was Osama bin Laden killed in the name of anti-Americanism? Is Leon Panneta the anti-American's choice for secretary of Defense? And surely the CIA rank-and-file are either furious or cowering now that famed leftist David Petraeus, that eager servant of radical anti-American administrations, is taking over.
The Podhoretz thesis isn't just presented without rigor -- it is transparently absurd. Yet prominent organs of movement conservatism have been wasting their time on arguments just like it for three years now, even though they're politically suicidal and blind a subset of the right to more accurate critiques. Should anyone doubt the rhetorical opportunity cost paid by Podhoretz and those who elevated the worst work of his career, consider again this line: "He is still the same anti-American leftist he was before becoming our president, and it is this rather than inexperience or incompetence or weakness or stupidity that accounts for the richly deserved failure both at home and abroad." This is identity politics for right-wingers: Focus on who he is, not what he's done. Used against a seemingly well-intentioned man with a weak record, it's folly.
Perhaps the Rush Limbaughfication of movement conservatism must run its course before something better emerges. But it's maddening to see so many people and institutions that should know better operating with so much less thoughtfulness and rigor than they once demonstrated. Doubly so because their inflammatory, dubious paranoia is elevated as if it is the strongest critique of Obama. Due to their misconduct, all criticism of Obama is viewed with marginally more suspicion, and there is less attention paid to more rigorous accounts of the Obama administration's flaws, some of it produced for the same outlets that publish the indefensible.
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