Saturday, March 21, 2015

Did First Lady Use 'Divisive Rhetoric' in 2014 Campaign?

    Since Benjamin Netanyahu's victory in Israel's recent elections, the Obama administration has made its displeasure with the results abundantly clear. To help justify changes in its posture towards Israel, the White House appears anxious to point out what it sees as "divisive" rhetoric and attitudes by Netanyahu and his party aimed at the Arab population of Israel. To that end, Press Secretary Josh Earnest came to the press gaggle on Air Force One on Wednesday with a prepared response on the topic. When none of the reporters broached the subject, Earnest unloaded anyway:
There’s one other thing that I anticipated might come up that I just did want to mention as it relates to the Israeli elections.  Specifically, there has been a lot of coverage in the media about some of the rhetoric that emerged yesterday that was propagated by the Likud Party to encourage turnout of their supporters that sought to, frankly, marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens.  The United States and this administration is deeply concerned by divisive rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens. 
It undermines the values and democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the United States and Israel together.  We’ve talked a lot about how our shared values are an important part of what binds our two countries together, and rhetoric that seeks to marginalize one segment of their population is deeply concerning and it is divisive.  And I can tell you that these are views that the administration intends to communicate directly to the Israelis.
    However, when it comes to condemning divisive campaign rhetoric, the White House could begin closer to home. Although President Obama takes exception to what he perceives as Likud's attempt to "marginalize one segment of [Israel's] population," First Lady Michelle Obama routinely invoked race and gender in her campaign stump speech in the run-up to the 2014 mid-terms. Remarks she made at a rally in Milwaukee in September 2014 are typical of how she clearly labels the Democrats ("our people") as female, minorities and the young, while Republicans are simply "the other side":
And I don’t know if you remember, but a lot of people were shocked when Barack won because they were counting on folks like us to stay home.  But we proved them wrong.  (Applause.)  Barack won because record numbers of women and minorities and young people showed up to vote.  That’s why we won.  (Applause.) 
But here’s what happens -- but then when the midterms come along, too many of our people just tuned out.  And that’s what folks on the other side are counting on this year, because when we stay home, they win.  So they’re assuming that we won’t care.  They’re assuming that we won’t be organized and energized.  And only we can prove them wrong. [emphasis added]
    While the first lady invoked race and gender repeatedly in her speeches, President Obama himself raised the same issue at a dinner for Democrats in April 2014. He even accused the "other side" of trying to discourage "our voters" from voting, a technique he called (with some help from the audience) "Un-American" [emphasis added]:
THE PRESIDENT: ...On every issue of importance, Democrats actually have the better argument, and we have majority opinion behind us.  But we have this congenital disease, which is in midterm elections we don't vote at the same rates.  Our voters are younger, more unmarried women, more African American and Latino voters.  They get excited about general elections; they don't get as excited about midterm elections. 
And what’s compounding the problem is obviously the massive amounts of money that are coming from super PACs on the other side and active efforts to discourage people from voting -- which is another thing I don't understand but apparently is fairly active here in Texas.  The idea that you’d purposely try to prevent people from voting --

THE PRESIDENT:  Un-American.
     Not only did the president and his wife engage in the kind of divisive rhetoric of which they accuse "the other side", President Obama has, ironically enough, reportedly taken offense at the suggestion that the strategy was successful. David Axelrod wrote in his recently released book Believer that the president was "irritated" by Governor Romney's concession phone call. The Hill reports:
Axelrod writes that Obama was annoyed Romney seemed to be blaming the loss on the black vote.  
"'You really did a great job of getting the vote out in places like Cleveland and Milwaukee,' in other words, black people," Obama said, summarizing Romney's message. "That's what he thinks this was all about."
     But while Mitt Romney vehemently denies making the remarks about "getting the vote out in places like Cleveland and Milwaukee," the president's wife in her speech in Milwaukee flatly declared, "Barack won because record numbers of women and minorities and young people showed up to vote."
     Given the Obamas blatant use of demographics to spur their voters to the polls, the White House's indignant reaction to Benjamin Netanyahu's campaign may be less about "deep concern" over "marginalization" and more about projection.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

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