When tea partyers braved the cold and wind on Saturday at a rally in Madison, Wis., to hear one of Sarah Palin’s most fiery speeches yet, they may not have noticed her part in a common theme developing of late among President Barack Obama’s critics — on the right and left alike.
When Obama blasted House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to cut spending, reform entitlements, and solve long-term government debt, “he demonized the voices of responsibility with class warfare and with fear mongering,” the former Alaska governor and potential Republican presidential candidate said.
Mocking Obama’s new “Win the Future” catchphrase, she added: “Our president isn’t leading; he’s punting on this debt crisis. The only future that Barack Obama is trying to win is his own re-election. He’s willing to mortgage your children’s future to insure his own, and that is not ‘the audacity of hope.’ That’s cynicism. Piling more debt onto our children and our grandchildren? It’s not courage. No, that’s cowardice.”
Is it over the top — and liable to backfire — for opponents of the president to call the commander-in-chief a coward? In recent weeks, with Obama plagued by various foreign and domestic uproars and his popularity numbers continuing to drop, those unhappy with the president either don’t think so or don’t care.
Among the attacks on Obama from the left, an April 4 New York Times editorial entitled “Cowardice Blocks the 9/11 Trial” called it a “retreat” for the Obama administration’s Justice Department to scrap its plan to try self-confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on U.S. soil.
Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, announced this month that the KSM case would be sent to a military tribunal at the U.S. military’s Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba, which candidate Obama had promised to shut down during his first year as president.
According to the Times, the reversal was “a victory for congressional pandering and an embarrassment for the Obama Administration, which failed to stand up to it.”
In the same vein, Pulitzer-winning Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist and former editorial page editor Cynthia Tucker commented that “it’s hard to account for the level of cowardice that forced the Obama administration to renege on a high-profile promise.”
Meanwhile, back at the tea party, freshman Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., interviewed on MSNBC, said President Obama “should be ashamed of himself” for savaging the Ryan plan in a speech last week. Calling Ryan’s proposal “an act of real bravery,” Walsh said it “counters an act of cowardice by the president a month ago,” referring to the Obama administration budget plan.
“His budget is an act of cowardice,” Walsh charged, because it failed to include “anything about Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security . . . Why didn’t he mention those programs then, and yet he mentioned them this week?”
On top of that harsh criticism, the Media Research Center’s Tim Graham issued a report this month entitled “Liberals on Talk Radio Slam Obama for ‘Cowardice’ and Wimpiness on Guantanamo.”
As Graham noted, ex-MSNBC anchorman David Shuster, speaking to liberal talk radio host Stephanie Miller, said of Obama’s breaking of his Gitmo promise, “My issue with President Obama all along has been there’s such an effort I suppose to sort of want to be conciliatory and sort of you know reach sort of middle ground and compromise.”
Questioning Obama’s political courage, Shuster complained, “I always thought the job of a President was to sort of use the bully pulpit to bring people towards your position.”
Graham also quoted Boston Globe Magazine writer Charlie Pierce’s outraged reaction to Obama and Holder’s turnaround on the KSM trial. Pierce insisted that “there is absolutely no reason why you cannot try these guys in a civilian court, except for a bunch of staged cowardice by a bunch of people seeking political advantage.”
The “c” word has come up with Obama in regard to his drifting policy on Libya, too. “Is it cowardice? Is it indecisiveness?” Anne Applebaum wondered last month in the London Telegraph. “Or is it clever diplomacy? Depending on who you ask in Washington, you’ll get a different explanation for President Barack Obama’s silence, to date, on the subject of Libya.”
One of the undeniable appeals of Obama’s historic 2008 campaign, on top of the obvious infectiousness of his charisma, was his fearlessness in the face of daunting odds — a youthful one-term senator having the guts to take on powerful front-runner Hillary Clinton, and win.
When antagonists on both sides feel so comfortable wondering whether that same man is a “coward,” it raises real questions about the staying power of the Obama mystique.
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