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Obama a Uniter? Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Is Barack Obama a uniter? Since the beginning of the Democratic primaries, unity has been one of his major themes. It proved a strong lure compared to the polarizing Hillary Clinton. That theme has also helped Obama blunt the undeniably bipartisan record of John McCain.

But being a uniter takes some effort. It isn’t just about words. Republicans have pointed to Obama’s lack of bipartisan accomplishments in either state or federal government. And even Obama’s presidential campaign indicates that he has a tin ear when it comes to dealing with those he disagrees with. One of the surest ways to anger others is not giving them a chance to air their views.

Obama’s list of heavy-handed actions is growing:

— Last week the Obama campaign kicked reporters from the Dallas Morning News, the New York Post and the Washington Times off the campaign plane — making it difficult for their papers to cover Obama’s final campaign appearances. The reporters were replaced with writers from magazines such as Glamour. The editorial pages of all three papers had endorsed McCain.

The Obama campaign explained the decision as simply occurring from an excess demand for seats. But Washington Times Executive Editor John Solomon told radio show host Mark Levin on Friday evening that they had been covering the Obama campaign from the beginning of his run for the presidency, and that those endorsements were “the only one common thread among [the three newspapers].”

Kirsten Powers notes how times have changed — not even Richard Nixon kicked disagreeable reporters off campaign planes, not even his archenemies at the Washington Post.

— Democrats seemed determined to cut back on the few conservative voices in the mainstream media. Obama supports media-ownership caps, which will primarily affect News Corp, the company that owns Fox News and conservative newspapers such as the New York Post. His proposals to increase minority ownership of broadcasting are also designed to change content, no longer leaving it up to customers to decide what it is they want to listen to.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promise more direct regulations on content. They want to re-impose the “Fairness Doctrine,” mandating that private radio stations provide what the government determines to be “balanced” coverage and guaranteeing that conservative talk radio will be over. There is a reason why talk radio only really began after the “Fairness Doctrine” ended in the 1980s.

Congressman Mike Pence couldn’t get even one single Democratic member of Congress to oppose these regulations last year, and Obama hasn’t yet said whether he would veto a bill regulating radio show content.

— There has been what can only be described as thuggish activity. In late August, Milt Rosenberg — a Chicago institution, broadcasting on WGN radio since 1973 — interviewed Stanley Kurtz about the extremely extensive relationship between Obama and William Ayers. Milt, a mild mannered, middle-of-the-road person, tried to have both sides represented and had invited a representative of the Obama campaign. No one from the campaign agreed to appear. Instead, the campaign organized an immediate, massive call-in campaign to force WGN to cancel Kurtz’s appearance. When that failed, the campaign organized supporters to call in to the station and simply tie up the telephone lines so that other listeners couldn’t ask questions. Others threatened Federal Communication Commission action to revoke WGN’s license.

Rosenberg said that he had never seen anything similar to silence discussion during his years on radio.

— Obama has also gone to the extreme of threatening opponents and television stations with legal action for running ads. For example, when ads were run discussing Obama’s relationship to Ayers, Obama’s campaign demanded that the Department of Justice criminally investigate the group behind the ads. (What criminal charges that were justified by running an ad were never explained.) It is bad enough that a senator demands criminal charges against a political opponent, but Justice Department officials might take this seriously if the president of the United States asks them to press charges.

When the National Rifle Association started running ads warning that Obama had previously supported bans on handguns and massive taxes on bullets, the Obama campaign likewise used intimidation and sent cease-and-desist letters to television stations threatening legal action.

The list is long, but the media isn’t the only place that Obama promises to eliminate dissent. Campaign finance laws will surely be rewritten in ways that make it particularly difficult for Republicans to win races. Limits on total expenditures and public financing entrench incumbents, which in this case would be Democrats. For example, when an incumbent president doesn't face a serious challenge during the primaries, he can sit on the public funds obtained during the primaries until the nominee from the other party has been determined, and then use those primary funds to attack his general election opponent. The non-incumbent party's nominee must usually battle for the nomination and typically has reached the spending limit imposed by the taxpayer funding system by March. These challengers are then severely limited in their ability to campaign until their nominating conventions in August. Challengers Walter Mondale in 1984 and Bob Dole in 1996 were pummeled for months with little financial means to respond.

Or take unions, where secret ballots will be eliminated for union certification elections. What is next? Eliminating secret ballots for other elections? Presumably not, but if we care about preventing voter intimidation generally, why don’t we also care about that for workers? Don’t Democrats trust workers enough to make judgments on their own?

Stronger unions do mean one thing: more money for Democrats’ campaigns in future elections.

It is hard to put up with those who disagree. But will Democrats put up with criticism when they have the presidency and Congress and enough votes in the Senate to avoid a filibuster? This will be more power than any party has had for a long time, because even when the Democrats had over 60 votes in the Senate, many of those were conservative Southern Democrats, who no longer exist.

Some Republicans think that this election doesn’t matter. That in two years they will come back stronger than ever. Indeed, Republicans might be quite angry and inspired to take things back. But 2012 won’t be like 1980. The Democrats plan to tilt the playing field in their favor to ensure a long-term domination in politics.


John Lott is the author of Freedomnomics and a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland.

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