By Jonathan Soo Hoo
As a candidate for president, then-senator Obama campaigned on the rhetoric of uniting Americans rather than dividing them. Obama used his rhetorical prowess to unite Americans beginning from his time as a state legislator from Illinois, when, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, he stated, “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a Black America and a white America and a Latino America, and an Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.”[i] Barack Obama used this rhetorical statement, rejecting different types of America, only recognizing the United States of America, to present himself as above partisan politics, and therefore a bipartisan leader who could unite America. Hillary Clinton went as far as mocking Obama’s rhetoric, saying, “let’s get everybody together, let’s get unified the sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing, and everyone will know we should do the right thing, and the world will be perfect.”[ii]
Obama’s excessively optimistic rhetoric of hope and change cast him as a moderate who could bridge the divide between Republicans and Democrats causing Georgetown University Professor and 40-year Washington “insider,” Stephen Wayne, to refer to it as “come together-stay together.”[iii] Barack Obama’s deep disdain for the “labels” of “conservative” or “liberal,” falls in line with his moderate image of a pragmatic individual, who looks at both sides of each argument, and allows for an ample amount of debate between both sides before coming to a conclusion.[iv] Although Barack Obama had one of the most ideologically-liberal records in the United States Senate[v], he prefers the term “pragmatic” to describe himself, not ideologue.[vi] Barack’s disdain for “true believers” came to fruition when he wrote, in The Audacity of Hope, “It’s precisely the pursuit of ideological purity, the rigid orthodoxy, and the sheer predictability of our current debate, that keeps us from finding new ways to meet the challenges we face as a country. It’s what keeps us locked in ‘either/or’ thinking.”[vii] Barack Obama cast both his primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain as ideologues accustomed to the “politics of Washington,” and cast himself as “politics of change,” inferring he would move away from Washington-as-usual.[viii] Obama’s characterization of Washington politics, referred to partisan politics in Washington.[ix]Perhaps South Carolina Senator Jim Demint, summarized Obama’s campaign best in his book, The Great American Awakening, writing, “Obama campaigned on what seemed like a conservative platform.”[x] Barack Obama clearly campaigned on the idea of rejecting party labels, rejecting partisanship politics, and offering an alternative to the Washington-insider politics, of partisan bickering, pledging to bridge the divide between the liberal senators and the conservative senators.
However, despite his “come together-stay together” rhetoric on the campaign trail which allowed him to win the White House, President Obama has failed to bridge the divide between Conservatives and Liberals. The politics of Barack Obama have resulted in a grassroots movement known as the “TEA Party” whose name derives from the Boston Tea party, a historic turning point in American history, when the colonists sent a message to England that they were tired of the high taxes on tea imports.[xi] Members of the tea party, an acronym for “taxed enough already,” came about in protest to Barack Obama signing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.[xii] The emergence of the Tea Party reflects on President Obama’s failure to lead and unite America under his economic plan. The Tea Party has emerged as a dominant political force, [xiii] which can swing statewide elections, particularly in the Republican primary.[xiv]
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