by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, Ryan Powers, and Lee Fang
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Tomorrow marks the first 100 days of the Obama administration. Tomorrow's Progress Report item will highlight the past 100 days of progress. But today, we're focusing on how the conservatives have chosen to spend their first 100 days.
In the first 100 days of the Obama presidency, the country has been confronted by a myriad of challenges. President Obama has faced an inherited economic recession -- including widespread foreclosures, a banking system plagued by toxic assets, and mounting unemployment -- as well as two wars, international terrorism, global climate change, millions of Americans still without health care, piracy and now, the threat of a flu pandemic. But instead of engaging in a substantive policy debate with the President, conservatives have spent the past three months immersed in a radical transformation, lurching further to the right. Indeed, the brand of conservatism now in ascendancy embraces apocalyptic rhetoric, cheers on reflexive attacks on Obama, and fuels a steady drumbeat of conspiracy theories. With control of neither the White House nor Congress, conservatives have looked to hate radio talkers like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh for leadership. The new Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele, has also championed the fringe voices of the right wing while threatening to punish members of his party who make any attempts at bipartisanship. The single greatest achievement of the conservative movement thus far has been the staging of anti-Obama, anti-tax "tea party" protests, which were attended by over 100,000 people country-wide and quickly embraced by GOP leaders as the future of the party. The tea party protests, along with the near universal party-line votes opposing Obama's agenda items show how conservatives acting on Limbaugh's pre-Inauguration Day proclamation that he hopes Obama fails.
EMBRACING RADICALIZATION: While the mainstream of America is more and more progressive in its policy solutions, the Republican party appears intent on tapping into a darker undercurrent of right-wing rage that has proliferated since Obama's election. Public servants for the "loyal opposition" started using the rhetoric of armed opposition to Obama, such as Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-MN) call for people to be "armed and dangerous" over Democratic energy proposals. But as the conservative lobbyist-orchestrated "tea parties" gained momentum, GOP lawmakers issued more brazen calls for violence. Appearing before throngs of anti-Obama protesters, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) called for "revolution," as he declared that the attendees were the patriots who would, quoting Thomas Jefferson, refresh the tree of liberty with the "blood of tyrants." During the tea party fervor, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) called for assassinating Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) over taxes. Speaking to reporters after a tea party, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) suggested that his state may have to secede from the Union, a call then defended by former Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX). A Department of Homeland Security report on growing threats of right-wing domestic terrorism has become a rallying cry for conservatives, as members like Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) remarked to an audience, "Welcome, right-wing activists, is that what we are? Extremists, yeah, well I'm gonna get me a button." Going forward, House Republican leaders are now routinely stating that Obama's green economy proposals equate to a "declaration of war" on the country.
REFLEXIVE ATTACKS: Although conservatives and Republicans have made a point to tell the press they are focused on simply "putting forward positive alternatives," they have spent most of the first 100 days incessantly searching for ways to smear the president. Whether they are complaining about Obama's suit jacket policy, jabbing him about his use of a teleprompter, or ridiculing his wife for serving soup to the poor, conservatives have found no alleged fault too trivial. Exhibiting a certain form of creativity, they scoured Obama's trips abroad for evidence that he somehow hates America. To conservatives, Obama's brief bow to the Saudi King was proof that he is a "hillbillie," and the fact he shook hands with the Venezuelan President an example of his "shallowness." Obama's personalized gifts to the Queen of England were a sign of his apparent narcissism, according to conservatives, and when Obama spoke to the Turkish people on America's religious tolerance, he was -- in the eyes of Fox News pundits -- betraying the "Judeo-Christian ethic." The compulsive assaults on Obama have not only generated a cottage industry of newly-manufactured insults, but they have policy implications as well. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) thought he could score political points by mocking spending on volcano monitoring programs, but a federally-funded monitoring system detected an eruption in Alaska a month later. As Republicans reflexively decried almost all spending programs in the Recovery Act as useless "pork," Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) employed the same political rationale to cut pandemic flu preparedness funds from the bill -- just months before the current swine flu pandemic threat.
NOT GROUNDED IN REALITY: In their quest to discredit Obama, conservatives have increasingly left the facts far behind. Playing upon myths forged during the presidential campaign, Republicans like Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and a chorus of talk radio hosts have spread the lie that Obama will "take away your gun." However, in the age of Obama, conspiracy theories have not been bound to only fringe members of Congress and right-wing radio. A bill aimed a preventing the creation of a "global currency" to replace the dollar -- a non-existent threat hyped by the right-wing echo chamber -- gained at least 30 GOP co-sponsors. The pattern has persisted on every major agenda item Obama has put forward. Republicans have falsely claimed that an MIT study showed that a cap on carbon pollution is a $3,100 light-switch tax. When the author explained the study actually found a $65 cost in 2015, conservatives declared the cost was then $3900. GOP talking points opposing Obama's Recovery Act were laden with accusations similarly made of whole cloth. For instance, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) joined other Republican lawmakers in decrying a made-up high-speed train supposedly designed to run "straight from Disney[land] ... to the doorstep of the Moonlight Bunnyranch in Nevada." And during the first public debates over health reform, the conservative establishment converged to support a "report" by Hudson Fellow Betsy McCaughey that erroneously suggested that investments in comparativeness effectiveness investments would create a "new bureaucracy" to "monitor doctors."