John Boehner and Barack Obama in 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais.)
When John Boehner whined last week that Obama’s goal for his second term is to “annihilate the Republican Party” and “shove us into the dustbin of history,” he was working the party into a psychological state much like James Franco had to in 127 Hours: They’re getting ready to accept that they will have to sequester their arm with a dull knife.
Of course, Obama’s War on the GOP is about as real as the liberals’ War on Christmas—both are paranoid, apocalyptic fantasies marketed to drum up fear and self-pity on the right. Obama telling Republicans to “Please proceed” is no more tantamount to annihilating the GOP than chirping “Happy Holidays” is to eliminating Christmas.
Instead, this is a classic case of psychological projection. Paul Ryan, Newt Gingrich, Frank Luntz, and senators Bob Corker, Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint, among other right thinkers, actually held a meeting the night of the 2009 Inaugural to plot to undermine Obama’s newborn presidency with nonstop obstructionism. The next year, Mitch McConnell said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” And yet, after these plans failed to block Obama’s re-election and instead cost the GOP a number of House and Senate seats to boot, here is Boehner saying his party is the victim of existential aggression.
Paranoid projection—whether subconscious or deliberate—is part and parcel of the GOP’s broader denial of so much of contemporary reality, whether it’s climate change, demographic change, macroeconomics or polls that don’t go their way.
But mostly, they deny who that black man claiming to be president really is. And so they’ve created an Imaginary Obama, who is just as crazily radical as the Ryan budget would be, if it were passed, or as Bush’s war in Iraq actually was. In one of the funnier attempts to portray Obama’s insidiously well-cloaked but devastatingly destructive nature, Breitbart.com wrote that by supporting gay rights in his Inaugural speech, the president had “bullied” the Supreme Court justices on the dais into going gay-friendly in their upcoming decisions.
It’s a short step from believing that Obama wants to decimate your party to believing he’s making your party choose hard-right fringe policies that will alienate voters. And as Jonathan Chait writes, moderate Republicans like David Brooks and former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, who resent the extremists but won’t break from their party, are particularly susceptible to this “pathological” notion.