Obama’s Attempt to Cast John Boehner as the Villain Fall Flat

Every self-respecting hero has a villain. Someone to provide some contrast; to show just how good they really are.

Americans have already crafted their villain – the national debt. They are literally terrified by its powers. To be fair, they have a right to be afraid. The national debt is growing out of control, and worse, growing beyond our ability to pay for it.

Much to their chagrin, Democrats have become the embodiment of that evil. Under their watch the annual deficit, the difference between the amount of money our government pays out versus the amount it takes in, has reached historic levels. As the CBO wrote in their latest Budget and Economic Outlook, “relative to the size of the economy, this year’s deficit is expected to be the second largest shortfall in the past 65 years.” The largest of course being last year. These deficits are beginning to pile up, causing our national debt to double in five years and triple in 10. Sadly, that is not even the most terrifying projection. According to CBO projections under its “alternative fiscal scenario,” which makes bottom-line adjustments for likely policy choice, our debt will reach 180 percent of GDP in just 25 years.

Interestingly, President Obama seems to relish the role of villain. Despite bipartisan calls to stop the spending, he proposed yet another round of government stimulus totaling $50 billion.

Sensing that they are losing the deficit debate (and their hope of maintaining the majority along with it) Democrats have been scrambling to come up with their own villain. Over the past few weeks it seems they have conjured one up – House Minority Leader John Boehner.

The recent line of attack began two weeks ago after Boehner gave an speech on the economy in Cleveland. Democrats immediately leaped into attack mode, believing they could use Boehner as a weapon against Republicans. DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen said after the speech,

“We will be using it to encourage our candidates to draw a clear distinction between continuing on the road to recovery or turning back the clock to the failed Bush economic agenda.”

Attempting to establish the theme, President Obama continued painting the villainous picture in his Labor Day speech. Speaking in Milwaukee, Obama referred to “the Republican who thinks he’s going to take over as speaker. I’m just saying, that’s his opinion.” Then it got a little more personal, saying “pay no attention to the man with the fake tan.” Apparently, Boehner is akin to Lord Voldemort, or “he who must not be named.”

But in a speech yesterday Obama became a little more bold, continuing the Boehner-bashing in a much more direct manner. In the speech Obama explicitly references the Minority Leader eight times, tossing in a few more thinly veiled references for good measure. “There were no new policies from Mr. Boehner,” Obama said, “there were no new ideas.”

Ironically, in arguing that Boehner has nothing but recycled ideas, Obama attempted to pitch one of his own – another round of stimulus. But the irony was lost on our President who seemed taken aback by the fact that Boehner “said no to these projects.”

Beyond the substance of the speeches it is clear that Democrats are doing their best to cultivate a villain that is not them. It is a smart political play. The concept of good versus evil is well ingrained in the subconscious of every voter. We view politics through a narrative lens, carefully crafting a storyline by deciding whether candidates are heroes or villains. Democrats are doing their best to exploit this frame of reference. To which I wish them the best of luck. With unemployment trending the wrong way, government stimulus a proven failure, and government deficits reaching historic heights, it will be tough to beat out the national debt as the villain of choice in voter’s minds.

But I don’t expect them to stop trying. Watch carefully in President Obama’s press conference today to see how many times he invokes the name John Boehner. Will he break his previous record of eight?

by Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee