Was Obama’s debt ceiling speech last night the most squalid presidential speech ever? I can think of some other very low moments, especially Franklin Roosevelt implying in 1944 that Republicans were the equivalent of Nazis. In his state of the union speech in 1944—the same one in which FDR outlined the prototypical liberal view that government exists to give you things and call them “rights”—FDR set the tone for liberal rhetoric against the right ever since:
One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis—recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920’s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.
Nothing subtle about that statement. I am sure we can expect worse from Obama in next year’s presidential campaign, and like Jimmy Carter’s appeals to “hate” in 1980 against the un-hating and un-hateable Ronald Reagan, it may well backfire. Let us hope so.
But in the meantime the confrontation over the debt ceiling (stop calling it “default,” please) deepens. Word is that Boehner, McConnell and Reid reached a compromise over the weekend, but that Obama nixed it, and commanded Reid to retreat into the partisan bunker and return to the language of “extremism” to describe House Republicans. To which I say: let us hope Reid is right about the House Republicans.
Obama is clearly banking on the lesson of the Clinton years that the president, as commander in chief of the bully pulpit, can win these confrontations, if not by the pulpit, then at least by bullying. And Sen. McConnell has worried aloud that Republicans will blamed for whatever financial calamity might ensue, thereby damaging the Republican “brand” heading into next year’s election. He may well be right in this calculation. But that is not sufficient reason to give in. Obama is clearly willing to risk all here to cement in place the permanently larger government that is his chief object. It is worth damage to your “brand” to make a stand here and now, even if it means risking office.
My headline here obviously borrows from Barry Goldwater’s infamous line that “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” A better precedent might be to that singular moment when Churchill faced down the appeasers in the war cabinet on May 28, 1940, not yet three weeks into his premiership. Scott has drawn attention to this moment on Power Line a couple times over the years, but it is worth noting once again in our present circumstances. When Lord Halifax and a handful of other influential members of the war cabinet were building support to seek peace terms with Hitler through the Italians, Churchill reminded them that “nations which went down fighting rose again, but those which surrendered tamely were finished.” The same may be said for the Republican Party today; if it surrenders to Obama, it may as well pack it in for good.
Churchill concluded his statement to the cabinet that day with these words: “If our long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.” For Churchill, it wasn’t a matter of keeping office; life itself wasn’t worth living if the struggle wasn’t won. It was a huge risk on Churchill’s part. But it was the only noble course. It is not possible to guarantee victory, Churchill said at other times; it is only possible to deserve it. For Republicans at this moment, it ought not to be worth keeping office if they surrender.
To extend the analogy, recall Churchill’s words about the RAF after the Battle of Britain: Never have so many owed so much to so few. Today the Tea Party-influenced members of Congress, and a few long-time stalwarts like Sen. Jim Demint, are the few who stand in the way of fiscal Armageddon. Let us hope that at some point down the road from here we can say the same thing about the Tea Party members of Congress that Churchill said of the RAF.