In Springfield, Ill., last week, President Obama commemorated the ninth anniversary of his bid for the White House. He admitted that one of his “few regrets” was his inability “to reduce the polarization and the meanness in our politics.”(OK, so the column wasn't directly about Trump - it was about how Obama shouldn't appoint the next Supreme Court judge as a way of making it all up to the Republicans who have been hurt by his refusal to bend to their will by things like, well, undoing his signature health care policy. But you can see how this plays into the "he has caused Trump" line.)
To conservative ears, Obama's comments fell somewhere between risible and infuriating. Obama has always done his best to demonize and marginalize his opponents. Either the president honestly cannot see that or he's cynically pretending that the fault lies entirely with his critics. If only there were some way to figure out whether he's sincere.
Now it's Ross Douthat's turn, and as usual, he tries to take a more considered, reasonable sounding line.
Look, there is one element of truth in there: that Obama's first campaign was big on "hope" rhetoric and light on policy - as I've said many times, he didn't impress me as a well qualified person for the job, at all. And the "change" rhetoric leaves me cold generally - it was too much like the Kevin Rudd line with its shallowness.
But seriously, there is no comparison between the concern that reasonable people may have had about the suitability of Obama for the job with that which they should have with blowhard, "say anything" ratbag Trump.
As the top comment after the article says (typos and all):
We could see this coming, couldn't we? It was inevitable that establishment Republicans would blame Donald Trump's successful insurgent campaign for the GOP nomination on Obama. Ross Douthat ties himself in knots making the argument that it's all the fault of Obama and the Democrats.I didn't mind this comment further down, too:
But here's the real connection: the election of Barack Obama gave Republicans the opening to make incivility in politics sonehow...cool. He made it possible for them to claim that the president of the United States was born in Kenya; they could yell "You lie!" as he delivered his State of the Union; they could boast that they were going to kick his rear end out of the White House. They did all this and their constituents loved it.
Donald Trump is riding that wave, quite possibly all the way to the Republican nomination. Is it Barack Obama's fault, or the fault of a party that has gone so far off the rails that a carnival barker like Trump is now seen as a plausible leader?
Ross, you're better than this.
Commenters who point to Reagan's imagery, in his campaigns and in office, are completely right. Obama did some over the top stuff in his first campaign, but he didn't invent the celebrity politics business which, at a minimum, goes back to JFK and Jacquie.
You know as well as your readers that the most important influences leading to Trump were: the Southern Strategy, stagnant wages, loss of good jobs, leadership failure of "the elites."
Any contribution from "politicians as celebrities" is completely overshadowed by the take-no-prisoners politics that emerged with the removal of the "fairness doctrine" for broadcast. That, in turn, gave rise to Limbaugh and company, followed by Gingrich revolution in the mid-90s, the rise of Fox News, and, now, the evolution of cable news, a media-politics complex that has turned the Presidential election process into a non-stop source of programming.
Tracing this to something Obama did is, I think, beneath you.