"What am I doing here," asked President Barack Obama from back stage. "I'm opening for Jimmy Kimmel and telling knock-knock jokes to Kim Kardashian." The audience at the White House Correspondents Dinner laughed at the president's play on the "open mic" incident with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last month. It was another example of why President Obama is personally so popular.
But America is evenly divided politically, and the country is ideologically very polarized. Recent polls show the race for the White House is a dead heat. So this November's presidential election will come down to which party can win the independents, numbering less than 10 percent of the electorate, and which party does the best job of mobilizing its base.
While the president's campaign team debates whether to attack their apparent opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, as an untrustworthy serial flip-flopper or a severe conservative, Republicans have decided to go after President Obama's strengths.
Republican strategist Karl Rove and his American Crossroads group launched a 30-second online ad late last week attacking the "Celebrity President." The ad includes President Obama "slow-jamming" the news with late night show host Jimmy Fallon, and singing an Al Green song at the White House. The ad then asks, "After four years of a celebrity president, is your life any better?" It is a slick effort to undermine the president's personal popularity.
Republican spokespersons and columnists have piled on, decrying the president's actions as unpresidential, desperate and aggravating, even to many Democrats. Really? Where was their outrage when President George Bush appeared on Late Night with David Letterman? Just who is desperate?
One year ago next Wednesday, a Navy SEAL team shot and killed al-Qaeda leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden in his home in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The raid was made following a daring decision by President Obama to make the attempt against the advice of many of his key advisers. But Republicans are undermining any mention of this success by the Obama campaign.
Sen. John McCain was most critical: "This is the same President who said, after bin Laden was dead, that we shouldn't 'spike the ball' after the touchdown. And now Barack Obama is not only trying to score political points by invoking Osama bin Laden, he is doing a shameless end-zone dance to help himself get reelected."
There has been a consistent pattern by Republicans, since the president's first moment in office, of obstructing, obfuscating and undermining anything the president proposes. They have divided the country and accused the president of being the great divider. They have questioned his place of birth, his religion and have called his agenda "socialist." They have leveraged the rules of Congress to grind to a halt or water down many of the president's proposals. They know that political chaos reflects badly most on the man at the top.
On the very day the president was being sworn in a group of leading Republicans began plotting their tactics. This has been confirmed in two recent books. One of the books was written by Carl Cannon and Tom Bevan of Real Clear Politics, the other by author and reporter Robert Draper.
Draper quotes Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California as saying, ""We've gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign." The Cannon-Bevan book says of participant and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, "Gingrich encouraged Republican members to go on the offensive against the ascendant Democrats, stressing his view that it was less important for them to have a specific alternative legislative agenda to the Democrats' than an alternative vision -- and a compelling way of communicating it."
So here they were, in the midst of the greatest economic crisis this country has faced since the Great Depression, largely brought on by the policies of Republican President George Bush, placing their highest priority on defeating President Barack Obama. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell repeatedly said his top priority was to make President Obama a one-term president.
For sure, the rough and tumble of politics is played on both sides of the aisle. But the Right seems to be consistently the most mean-spirited and personal. It was a Republican Congressman who yelled out to the president "liar" from the floor of the House. It was a Republican Congressman who recently said he believes, "There's about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party." Nonsense! Yet no Republican leader has denounced the charge.
The 2012 Republican primary is yet more evidence how disrespectful that party can be -- only in this case it was to their own party members! And a flood of Super PAC money has fueled this year's cacophony of harshly critical attack ads to decibel levels never before achieved.
The stage is set in 2012 for the dirtiest, most negative and deeply intense presidential campaign ever. In fact, the campaigns have already gone to the dogs, so to speak.