The Bully’s Pulpit

When President Obama used his State of the Union address last week to take a shot at the Supreme Court, he revealed a bit of his true character. And it wasn’t pretty.

Obama stated that the court’s ruling on the Citizens United vs. The FEC would “open the floodgates” for foreign corporations to flood (well, it was his metaphor) our elections with money to sway influence. When he said that, Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito was caught on camera apparently mouthing “that’s not true.”

Obama, by making that statement in that venue, demonstrated that he is, at heart, a bully.

Obama was wrong on the facts. The decision overturned a law passed in the 1990’s, which had been re-interpreted by the FEC. The Court, further, specifically said that their decision had no bearing whatsoever on the ban on foreign money on elections. Obama’s saying that the decision overturned “a century” of established law was completely untrue.

Further, if anyone should know about the laws governing foreign contributions, it’s Obama. His campaign was caught in 2008 disabling standard online security features to enable anonymous contributions — many of which were traced back to foreigners.

Obama was wrong on the remedy. Obama called for Congress to pass a new law to reverse the Court’s ruling. This is an Ivy League graduate and former Constitutional law professor who simply doesn’t understand how the Constitution works. When the Supreme Court strikes dow a law on Constitutional grounds, that’s it. Game over. The only solution is to amend the Constitution, or maybe find a similar enough case and seek out a new interpretation. That’s Civics 101. It’s not that complicated. Asking Congress to pass a law reaffirming a principle already declared unconstitutional is several steps beyond stupid.

Obama was wrong on the venue. The State of the Union address is where the head of the Executive Branch gives a report to the Legislative Branch, and the Judicial Branch attends as a courtesy and show of respect. It is NOT the place for the Chief Executive to pick a fight with the Justices. The Address is NOT a forum for debate, especially with the one branch of the government that, by tradition and principle, does not engage in public squabbles and debates with the other branches.

It’s enlightening to see how the Court reacted, and how that reaction was received. A single justice, stunned at the breach of decorum, mouthed (didn’t even speak loudly) a very polite disagreement. And even for that entirely human response, he is being lambasted. Look at how Glenn Greenwald (or maybe it was Rick Ellensburg, Thomas Ellers, Ellison, or some other sock of Greenwald’s speaking) reacted to Alito’s three silent words.

(One wonders if Greenwald et al were as appalled at the impropriety of Cindy Sheehan’s disruption of President Bush’s State of the Union address in 2006. Sheehan had been admitted as a guest of Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).)

Obama chose the venue for his attack very carefully. He knew that he would have the most attention, and he would be speaking without fear of contradiction or confrontation.

It’s part of a pattern. When Obama spoke to the House Republicans at their retreat yesterday, he decried the bitter partisanship that had marked his first year — and pretty much denied his own role in the inflammatory rhetoric (“party of no,” “shut up and let us clean up your mess,” and the like).

That’s how rhetorical bullies operate. They take the high road when there’s a chance of confrontation, saving their attacks for when they know their opponents can’t hit back.

It’s what he learned in Chicago. And it’s just how he rolls.

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