Four months before the midterm election, it has become apparent the Republican strategy is based upon firing up their base with a barrage of anti-Obama messages. This has driven down the president's approval ratings and it has made Republican partisans angry and more likely to vote. It's reminiscent of the hate campaign that caused California Proposition 8 to pass in 2008.
Writing in the Cook Political Report Amy Walter reflected on the bitter partisanship that characterizes the current electorate:
"Among those who are most politically active, 44 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Republicans believe the other party is a 'threat.' These are the voters that show-up in low turnout elections and who donate money to congressional candidates. Keeping these voters engaged means keeping their hostility to the other side well fed."
Walter noted the Republicans have an "anger" advantage that they continue to stoke by focusing on issues like Benghazi, alleged IRS scandals, and now the Iraq civil war.
Much of the Republican animosity is focused on President Obama. As a result his approval rating is near a record low, 41 percent. More tellingly, only 9 percent of Republicans approve of the job Obama is doing, versus 76 percent of Democrats.
Each week the Republican anger machine lambasts the president on a particular topic. Recently, this has been Iraq. On June 17th, former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz Cheney blasted Obama's foreign policy in a Wall Street Journal editorial. Dick Cheney followed with an appearance on ABC's This Week and, in effect, accused the president of treason. Not only was Cheney's conduct unseemly it was also deceitful. In his Wall Street Journal editorial, Cheney wrote:
"When Mr. Obama and his team came into office in 2009, al Qaeda in Iraq had been largely defeated ... Mr. Obama had only to negotiate an agreement to leave behind some residual American forces, training and intelligence capabilities to help secure the peace. Instead, he abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory"
What Cheney said wasn't true. On Dec. 14, 2008, President George Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki signed a "Status of Forces Agreement" calling for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011. That action led to this crisis.
Cheney distorted the truth in order to feed Republican animosity towards President Obama and increase the likelihood that Republicans will triumph in the midterm elections. If this strategy seems familiar that's because it was used in the conservative 2008 campaign to pass California Proposition 8 that temporarily eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry.
The California Proposition 8 initiative sought to insert language, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California," into the California Constitution. At the onset this contest pitted conservative Christians and Mormons, who opposed same-sex marriage because of their interpretation of the Bible, versus liberal Californians who believed same-sex marriage was a human right. The battle was well matched until conservatives escalated the contest by first claiming that same-sex marriages would harm the children involved -- even though there's no reputable psychological evidence to support this statement. Then they made the more salacious claim that same-sex marriage was an important step in an alleged "homosexual agenda" seeking to lure innocent children "into the homosexual lifestyle." The conservative backers of Proposition 8 used hate to fuel the anger of their base and thereby increase the likelihood they'd turnout. This strategy worked as Proposition 8 passed with 52 percent of the vote.
(The subsequent history of California proposition 8 is brilliantly described in the new HBO documentary, The Case Against 8.)
Heading into the November 4th midterm elections, Republicans have once again amped up their voters with angry messages. There are three actions that progressives, Democrats, and anyone who opposes the politics of hate can take between now and November 4th:
1. Get involved: California Proposition 8 passed because too many progressives and Democrats, who opposed it, thought it was someone else's fight and didn't get involved. In the next four months we have to roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to push back the Republican hate machine.
2. Tell the truth: California Proposition 8 passed because of the numerous lies associated with it. Now Republicans, such as former Vice President Cheney, are using lies and distortions to bring down the president and his Democratic colleagues. Progressives and Democrats have to tell the truth: The president was right to end the Bush-Cheney war in Iraq and to temper our response to the Iraq civil war. Since 2009, the president's policies have stabilized and strengthened the economy; they haven't produced the jobs he hoped for because of steadfast Republican opposition that favors the 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent.
3. Be positive: It never works to respond to hate with hate. There's an important difference between anger and determination. In the next four months, progressives and Democrats need to reach out to voters with a message fueled by our desire to build a stronger democracy.