It is good to be President Barack Obama these days.
In the midst of a visit to Africa, including Kenya, where Republican front-runner Donald Trump has insisted Obama was born, the president seems to have been liberated by events and circumstances to speak his true mind.
Events include the Supreme Court’s favorable rulings on the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage. Circumstances stem from the Republican presidential race, in which some candidates appear to be vying to out-Trump Trump.
In sum, Obama doesn’t think much of Trump — or of Trump’s Republican critics. Neither does he think much of GOP leaders and wannabe presidents, whose apocalyptic rhetoric has reduced political debate to a crypto-Armageddon-ish clash of cliches.
Beware Brother Trump for thrice the cock hath crowed.
Addressing those Republicans who complain about Trump now — or who criticized him for questioning Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) war heroism — Obama said they are either insincere or stupid. My guess is that Obama would go with the second choice.
“Now” is the operative word since so few in the GOP were willing to criticize Trump when he was challenging Obama’s natural-born citizenship. Of course, in those days, potential presidential candidates were hoping for a handout from Trump. Little did they suspect he’d soon be routing and outing them, telling their little secrets (Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina asked him for help getting on Fox News) and ridiculing their appearance (former Texas governor Rick Perry wears glasses so he’ll look smart). Ouchie and ouch.
“Ridiculous” and “sad” were the words Obama chose to describe recent comments by Republican presidential contenders and others. Pointedly, he singled out former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.).
All three men dug deep into their sacks of Pavlovian metaphors and similes that would get their constituents banging their reward levers. Even ol’ Pontius Pilate, to whom Cotton compared Secretary of State John F. Kerry, got a trot-out. Huckabee said that the Iran deal was leading Israelis “to the door of the oven.” And Cruz brought it home with his charge that the Obama administration is a leading state sponsor of terrorism.
Put these three in a cocktail shaker and you get a rather mixed metaphor that nonetheless pours like a narrative: Pontius Kerry is leading the Jews to the Auschwitz ovens in a terrorist act orchestrated by the president of the United States.
With all due respect, you three are making Rick Perry look like Confucius, though you might edge out Graham for a spot on Fox News. Outrageous remarks get attention, and attention gets ratings, and ratings are the coins of the realm.
Contrary to Cruz’s remark, Obama is the terrorist-killer in chief. The drone-master has killed the second-highest-ranking terrorist leader, oh, at least 373 times in the past six years. In the world of terrorism, you do not want to be third in command.
Moreover, Obama’s trip to Ethiopia was partly to praise the nation for its role in weakening the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group in Somalia. He also urged greater press freedom and human rights, hardly the priorities of a terrorist leader. Or does Cruz think this was a clever ruse?
Cotton’s reference to Pontius Pilate was simply spectacular. Cotton, you’ll recall, pushed the Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran notifying them that congressional Republicans could kill any deal. Additionally, the 47 signees indicated that the next president could revoke an executive agreement.
If you squint your eyes and spin in circles counting backward from 100 by threes, you can begin to understand how Cotton would see Kerry, who is trying to negotiate a way to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities, as exactly like Pilate, who condemned Jesus Christ to die on the cross. Huh? Exactly.
Finally, Huckabee. What did you do with the other Huckabee — the jovial, not-mad-at-anybody, quick-with-a-quip Huckabee? “Oven”? It’s vivid and descriptive but cruel and offensive. One does not summon the horrors of the Holocaust except to discuss The Holocaust — a singularly horrific event deserving of its own place in history and in no one’s stump speech.
At most, these three conjurers have demonstrated temperaments unbecoming of leadership while insulting thoughtful Republicans who deserve better. Unwittingly (and how), they’ve made President Obama, whom they find so despicable, appear the wisest of all.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.