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A young organizer at the conservative Defending the American Dream Summit interrupted a panel discussion last Friday to read aloud, from her BlackBerry, the electrifying news that Chicago had been dumped from the 2016 Olympics.
A tracker caught the crowd’s reaction in the Arlington, Va., hotel ballroom on video: The place erupted in hooting and wild applause, a scene perversely reminiscent of the exultation that followed the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice” victory against the Soviets in 1980.
Chicago lost “on the very first vote! They did not have any chance,” the woman said to an ovation recorded by Think Progress, an offshoot of the liberal Center for American Progress.
The reaction wasn’t an isolated incident but part of a larger defeat lap jogged by a fair number of conservatives. A blogger with the right-wing Weekly Standard reported, “Chicago loses! Chicago loses! ... Cheers erupt at Weekly Standard world headquarters,” before hastily pulling down the post.
RedState.com’s Erick Erickson ditched loftier prose and punched out a “Hahahahaha,” while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) combined the loss with Friday’s dreadful unemployment report to conclude, “President Obama fails to get the Olympics while unemployment goes to 9.8 percent. ... America needs focused leadership” on his Twitter account.
During the Bush era, Republicans — from Karl Rove to South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson — questioned, in ways veiled and overt, the patriotism of Democrats who challenged the administration’s Iraq policy, prewar intelligence and surveillance programs.
But the joyous reaction to President Barack Obama’s Olympic humiliation has flipped the equation for some Democrats. A few are even turning the old “Why do you hate America?” on their tormentors, accusing the GOP of situational patriotism, a devotion to Americanism abandoned the moment the party lost power.
“Some of these people are starting to put politics first and country second,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, taking particular issue with Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
“The American people are starting to wonder if they are rooting against America,” he added.
Former George W. Bush press secretary Dana Perino, who supported Chicago’s bid, chalked up the anti-Olympics reaction to extremism in both parties. “I ... don’t know anyone who’s high-fiving,” Perino wrote in an e-mail.
“Though I’d bet there are some doing that, I’m just as sure there are some who are finding a way to blame President Bush somehow.”
But other GOP insiders are worried the reaction may reinforce Democrats’ attacks, however unfair, that the party’s anti-Obama fervor is pushing them away from their self-professed patriotism.
Moments after the Chicago news broke, former Bush deputy press secretary Scott Stanzel tweeted, “Note to GOP officials/consultants — resist temptation to pile on about Chicago losing just becuz Obama made the pitch.”
Kevin Madden, who served as Mitt Romney’s spokesman in 2008, sent around Stanzel’s sentiments to friends and cautioned against a backlash.
“Republicans disagree with Obama on many policies, ranging from taxes and spending to national security,” Madden told POLITICO.
“He has a lot of really wrong ideas. But does that mean his effort to bring the Olympic Games to Chicago and a chance to put America on the world’s stage should also automatically be subjected to scorn? I don’t believe it should. That’s just criticism for criticism’s sake. Reactionary criticism could even dilute any valid and legitimate criticism of his bad policies.”
Many Democrats saw the reaction to Chicago’s Olympics loss as part of a larger pattern of putting party before country, including the trumpeting of bad economic data by House and Senate Republicans, the flirtation with secession among rightwing Texans like Gov. Rick Perry, the birther movement and Limbaugh’s “I want him to fail” comment about Obama in January.
Two influential progressive spokesmen, Talking Points Memo founder Josh Marshall and Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos, hit that theme hard last week, with Marshall musing, “I wonder if right-wingers would be less stoked if Chicago were part of America.”
Moulitsas was blunter. “So when did wing nuts start cheering against America? Their unbridled joy at losing out to Brazil is a bit unseemly, isn’t it?” he asked, adding: “America, f--- yeah!” has become “F--- America, yeah!”
F-bombs aside, such comments pale with an eight-year drumbeat from conservatives who questioned Democrats’ willingness to stand up for their country. In late 2002, Wilson shouted down Rep. Bob Filner, a California Democrat, who challenged Bush administration prewar Iraq intelligence, bellowing, “This hatred of America by some people is just outrageous, and you need to get over it.”
Bush and Rove were less overt, but their message was unmistakable.
Summing up his view of Democrats in 2005, Rove remarked that liberals are “concerned about what our enemies think of us, whether every government approves of our actions.”
The meme has carried into the Obama administration, with Steve Doocy, the co-host of “Fox and Friends,” touting a video showing Obama without hand over heart during the playing of the national anthem.
“First he kicked his American flag pin to the curb,” Doocy said. “Now Barack Obama has a new round of patriotism problems.”
Before last week, Democrats had been less focused on Republicans’ patriotism than on pointing out the party’s relentless negativity and the GOP’s apparent enthusiasm for any scrap of economic data that shows the economy is still struggling.
Within the first 45 minutes after the Labor Department announced a worse-than-expected 263,000 jobs lost in September, POLITICO received no fewer than eight GOP press releases blasting away at Obama for failing to stem the tide of unemployment.
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) literally hit the send button at 8:30 a.m. — the moment of the announcement.
Former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who helped Democrats win 14 seats in the last two cycles, said the GOP risks the perception of rooting against recovery. “They are playing to their base again, which I think is a big mistake,” he said.
But Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), pointed out that Democrats used the same reports to attack Bush when he was in office.
He said there are “no examples of House Republicans ‘rooting against America’ in any way, shape or form. Criticizing the White House for spending nearly a trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money to produce a jobless recovery is the responsibility of public officials who believe there is a better way.”