Who’s Polarizing America?

Published February 18, 2011

National Review Online

American politics just keeps getting more polarized. Be assured that Obama wants it that way. I argue in Radical-in-Chief that Obama’s long-term hope is to divide America along class lines (roughly speaking, tax payers versus tax beneficiaries). Obama’s attack on the Supreme Court at his 2010 State of the Union address, his offensive against the Chamber of Commerce, his exhortation to Hispanics to punish their enemies, and several similar moves were all efforts to jump-start a populist movement of the left. Like his socialist organizing mentors, Obama believes that a country polarized along class lines will eventually realign American politics sharply to the left. Yet the entire strategy is based on the need for an activated, populist movement of the left. So far, Obama has failed to create such a movement. His expensive economic agenda has provoked a populist counter-movement of the right instead: Obama’s nightmare.

Now, however, Obama may belatedly be getting his wish. The very success of the Tea Party is calling forth an opposing movement of the left. Obama’s exhortations may have failed to polarize the country along class lines, but his policies have finally provoked the long-sought battle. The once-dormant legions of Obama’s group, Organizing for America, have now been activated. This is the moment they were created for.

In Radical-in-Chief, I describe the “inside/outside” or “good cop/bad cop” strategy favored by Obama and his organizing mentors. The idea is that a seemingly moderate “good cop” politician works on the inside of government, while coordinating his moves with nasty Alinskyite “bad cops” on the outside. Reports that Obama’s own organizers helped put together the Madison protests fit the model. That coordination is necessary to achieve Obama’s real goal: kicking off a national grassroots movement of the left that he can quietly manage, while keeping his distance when necessary.

Obama’s good-cop role allows him the flexibility to occasionally criticize protest tactics that cross the line. Yet the reality is that our presidential good cop and his bad cop buddies are in this together. Intimidating protests at the homes of enemy politicians are par for the course with Alinskyites (and, yes, Alinskyites think of their targets as “enemies”). Obama understands all this, and you can be sure that he’s on board with the protests held at the homes of Wisconsin Republican legislators, whether he disowns them or not.

As I show in Radical-in-Chief, Obama began his organizing career planning and participating in just this sort of intimidating protest (a fact largely hidden in Dreams from My Father). As Obama moved into politics, he switched to the good cop role and funneled foundation money to his Alinskyite pals, while using their hardball protests to support his legislative agenda. Meanwhile Obama perfected his calm, post-partisan persona. It’s all a game developed by the president’s Alinskyite (and socialist) organizing mentors.

We are destined for still more polarization. Neither side can pull back, because the financial crunch is going to have to be resolved one way or another. We either scale back government and the power of public employee unions, or we move toward a structurally higher tax burden and a permanently enlarged welfare state. The very nature of the American system is now at stake. The emerging populist movements on both the right and left recognize this, and so cannot turn back from further confrontation.

Conservatives may win this battle, but they need to understand that the possibility of failure is real. As I’ve argued, Obama’s long-term strategy of class-based polarization and realignment can succeed. That is why he’s been willing to take tremendous short-term political risks. From Obama’s point of view, Wisconsin means that the risks have been worth it. With an activated movement of the left now ready to oppose the Tea Party, the permanent transformation of the country Obama has been after from the start is in prospect.

The best way to check Obama’s ambitions is to identify and expose his broader strategy. At any rate, as the country divides into opposing movements, most of us could soon be forced to choose up sides. Obama may succeed in putting some distance between his good-cop persona and his bad-cop friends. Yet the more likely outcome is that his radical intentions and alliances will be clarified over time. It’s happening now in Wisconsin. Years of widening political polarization may have been mere a dress rehearsal for what we’re about to experience. That is what our Organizer-in-Chief has been planning all along.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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