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Leonard Pitts column: A plague on both their houses

President should not focus energies on his critics
You figure the White House is probably feeling pretty good about itself right now.
After spending much of the summer as a punching bag for conservatives, Team Obama has begun throwing punches of its own. It has unleashed its marquee figures to tee off on high-profile GOP personalities and institutions in a coordinated effort to marginalize the opposition.
For example, you have communications director Anita Dunn saying of Fox News and its anti-Obama agenda, “We don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.” Then there’s the administration’s combative stance toward the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, painting it as more a conservative front group than a lobbying organization and refusing to do business with it.
White House officials have said this grows from a decision to be more aggressive in defending against conservative attacks. One doubts it would break Obamans’ hearts to help the GOP tumble further down the hill it slid upon in the November election, reducing itself to a regional party of disaffected Southern whites.
Indeed, unnamed White House officials tell Politico.com that it’s already happening; they point to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll that says only 20 percent of Americans now identify themselves as Republican. It’s among the lowest figures in the almost 30 years the poll has posed the question.
That Obama has adopted a fighter’s stance must hearten his partisans, who have fretted that he was getting clobbered while playing Mr. Nice Guy. Nor can one argue with a straight face that conservatives have not earned a bloody nose after months of town hall hooliganism, tea party idiocy, and a dumber-than-a-bag-of-lug nuts “controversy” over Obama’s place of birth. And yes, Dunn is right about Fox: Glenn Beck is hardly the second coming of Edward R. Murrow.
All that said, one wonders if a White House that focuses excessively on answering its critics is not a White House that has allowed those critics to get into its head.
One also wonders if Democrats who exult over the Post-ABC poll might not want to read it more closely. Yes, it finds Republicans down to a historic low of 20 percent. But it also says only 33 percent of Americans call themselves Democrats, a decline of seven percentage points just since March 2008.
So this poll does not suggest an electorate crying, “Yay, Democrats!” so much as one crying, with apologies to Shakespeare, “A plague on both their houses!” Consider: a Rasmussen Reports poll last month found 60 percent of Americans saying “neither” party has the answers to what ails this nation.
Seldom has the need for a viable third party been more apparent.
Unfortunately, we don’t have that and won’t in the near future. We are left instead with two parties that might better be named Angry and Dopey. One manufactures votes by scaring voters to the polls (“Vote for us or Muslim terrorists will sneak over the border from Mexico and gay-marry your children!”). The other chases legislative power as frantically as Wile E. Coyote chased Roadrunner, but handles it with the same cool authority Barney Fife once handled his gun.
Their one commonality: politicians from both sides seem to rank party above country and themselves above both.
Small wonder thinking Americans (about a dozen of whom still exist) fear the nation’s well-being is being forgotten in the ongoing melee. So if they are smart, the Obamans will resist the understandable temptation to go too far down this road. If they are “good,” they will recall and redeem the expectations that brought them to power.
If they are neither, will the last statesman please turn out the lights in the Capitol dome?
– – –
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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