03.02.09

Don't Lecture Us, Mr. President

When it comes to Obama’s constant finger-wagging, Rush Limbaugh had it right. We elected a president, not a founding father.

The most important thing Rush Limbaugh said Saturday night has escaped notice by the mainstream media. The clip that’s running in a constant loop on cable television includes Limbaugh’s comment about wanting “any force, any person, any element of an overarching Big Government that would stop your success. . . to fail.” White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel made a clever attempt to distort those comments by suggesting that Republicans are rooting for the country’s failure, but most people outside the Beltway will simply be puzzled that the White House is engaged in a debate with Limbaugh at all. I can’t imagine George Bush or Andy Card in a debate with Keith Olbermann, and I find the entire White House obsession with conservative media personalities like Limbaugh and Sean Hannity bizarre.

When we turn on the television and see this gifted young leader scolding us and sending the successful and prosperous people of this country to detention, many of us scratch our heads.

The real news that Limbaugh made was that he put his finger on Obama’s “original sin”—the error that will ultimately lead to the Democrats’ demise if Republicans can get their act together and begin a more basic philosophical debate about the role of government in people’s lives. “All politicians,” Limbaugh said, “including President Obama, are temporary stewards of this nation. It is not their task to remake the founding of this country. It is not their task to tear it apart and rebuild it in their image.”

If Americans turn their backs on Obama, and at this point that looks unlikely but possible if the economy continues in its downward spiral, it will be because he tried to remake America in his own image. We didn’t sign up for a new founding father. We did not abandon our belief that despite our imperfections, America is the solution—not the problem—to every challenge facing the people in this country and, in many cases, the world. Most of us did not come to the same conclusion Obama did that America behaved badly and now we are being punished. Most of us love this country for the opportunity she provides. We love her for the decency of her people. And we believe that our president’s job is to cheer her on not talk her down.

When we turn on the television and see this gifted young leader scolding us and sending the successful and prosperous people of this country to detention, many of us scratch our heads. Who does he think is going to do the hiring and the growing and the building and the paying of the taxes? If Obama continues to paint all the job creators in this country with the same broad brush that he used last week when he condemned the greedy and the corrupt for their bad behavior, America’s recovery will be a long time coming. He seems to forget that we have a system in place for people who break the law. The people who defrauded investors and scammed unwitting homebuyers will be punished. But the vast majority of business owners and job creators are decent and honest, and their success is vital if we are to re-enter a period of economic expansion in this country.

In his most instructive comments to Republicans, Limbaugh recognized Obama’s power as a politician and as a communicator. “President Obama has the ability to inspire excellence in people’s pursuits. He has the ability to do all this, yet he pursues a path that punishes achievement, that punishes earners... and he speaks negatively of the country. Ronald Reagan used to speak of a shining city on a hill. Barack Obama portrays America as a soup kitchen in some dark night in a corner of America that’s very obscure.”

Rush’s description of America as a soup kitchen is up for debate, but his belief in American exceptionalism is the glue that holds Republicans together as a party and offers our best road map out of the wilderness.

Nicolle Wallace served as a senior adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign from May to November 2008. She served President George W. Bush as an assistant to the president and director of communications for the White House, as well as communications director for President Bush's 2004 campaign.