Blow: The GOP’s scurrilous memes about President Obama

New York TimesFebruary 10, 2014 

The Republican messaging machine is at it again, cranking out scurrilous memes that defame the president and distract from the party’s inaction.

The latest talking point is that the president is a “lawless” “dictator” hellbent on operating outside, and indeed above, the law.

This is not a particularly new line of attack. Conservatives have been using some variation of the lawlessness theme for some time to refer to the president’s actions, particularly to the administration’s adjustments to the Affordable Care Act.

But the distillation and repetition of the word “lawless” gathered new steam last month when the president signaled that he would work with Congress where he could but would issue executive orders, to the extent that he could, when he was stymied by Congress.

Before a Cabinet meeting, the president said, “One of the things that I will be emphasizing in this meeting is the fact that we are not going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we are providing Americans the kind of help that they need.” He added, “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone.”

Before the president could even repeat the sentiment in his State of the Union speech, Republicans were up in arms.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp tweeted that night, “1st Release of Obama speech reads like the dictates from a King. All orders he will do to bypass Congress #LawLess.”

Huelskamp went on to repeat the #LawLess hashtag throughout the night, and it was picked up by others.

After the speech, Michele Bachmann threatened to sue the “king,” Obama.

It seems to matter not that this president has in no way been an abuser of executive orders. Quite the opposite. According to the American Presidency Project, a collaboration between John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Obama had issued only 168 executive orders as of Jan. 20, fewer than any two-term president in more than 100 years.

Still, the “lawless” messaging has only picked up steam.

On Sunday, Paul Ryan, appearing on the ABC News show “This Week,” said: “It’s not the number of executive orders; it’s the scope of the executive orders. It’s the fact that he’s actually contradicting law, like in the health care case, or proposing new laws without going through Congress.” Ryan continued, “We have an increasingly lawless presidency where he is actually doing the job of Congress, writing policies and new laws without going through Congress. Presidents don’t write laws; Congress does.”

The Republican senator and likely presidential candidate Ted Cruz told Glenn Beck on Tuesday that “there is a pattern of lawlessness in this administration that is breathtaking.”

The latest application of the lawlessness meme has emerged on the immigration debate.

On Thursday, Sen. Pete Sessions, R-Ala., expressed his opposition to immigration reform in a statement, saying that “the administration’s aggressive defiance of congressionally enacted law is a profound obstacle in the way of any proposed immigration changes.” He continued, “President Obama must end the immigration lawlessness.”

Also Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner signaled that he might be caving on pushing immigration this year, saying in part: “Listen, there’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws. It’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

It is a particularly tortured construct: Congress won’t make laws for fear the president won’t respect them.

Even the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page wasn’t buying that one, as it chided the House GOP for its “fear of a talk-radio backlash” in not moving forward even on immigration proposals that most Republicans support.

This lawlessness talk is simply another iteration of the “othering” of this president. Paint him as a criminal, an enemy to the rule of law, and by extension, to the construct of America. America is, after all, a nation of laws.

It’s another excuse for Republican obstruction and recalcitrance. It’s another line of attack that will allow Republicans to bide their time and hope for 2014 to deliver them the Senate and 2016 to deliver them the White House.

They are banking on wearing down the truth, and this president, through what has become their bailiwick: repetition of fallacy.

Email Mr. Blow at editorial@nytimes.com.

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