Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., went to the Senate floor on Wednesday in order to give President Obama and his White House what he said he hoped would be taken as "a friendly suggestion." With that disclaimer, of course, it was clear that what Alexander had to say was anything but friendly -- it was a political attack disguised as a piece of advice: "Don't create an enemies list."
Alexander went even further than this implicit suggestion that the White House is creating such a list, or is close to doing so -- he drew upon his time in the Nixon administration, comparing the two.
"I have an uneasy feeling only 10 months into this new administration that we are beginning to see the symptoms of this same kind of animus developing in the Obama administration," Alexander said, giving as examples the administration's battles against the Chamber of Commerce, what Republicans have claimed was a "gag order" imposed on health insurance company Humana, the White House's criticism of Fox News and the president's rhetoric about the banking industry.
None of this is actually comparable to drawing up an enemies list, especially not when you consider the general attitude in the Nixon White House and what that administration did in fighting against its enemies -- wiretapping and burglary, for example. Whether you agree with the White House's strategy or not, or think things like attacking a news organization are appropriate, this is all standard political fare. The White House isn't supposed to stand silent and let the blows rain upon it. But this si the new message emerging from the right, and having Alexander deliver it from the Senate floor ensured coverage.
Alexander himself made the strongest case against himself, when he gave as another example the way certain critiques from members of Congress have been handled by the Obama team:
Senator Bennett of Utah, Senator Collins, Senator Hutchison and I, as well as Democratic Senators Byrd and Feingold, all have questioned the number and power of 18 new White House czars who are not confirmed by the Senate. We have suggested this is a threat to constitutional checks and balances. The White House refused to send anyone to testify at congressional hearings.
Senator Bennett and I found ourselves "called out," as they say, on the White House blog by the President's communications director.
Even the President, in his address to Congress on health care, threatened to "call out" Members of Congress who disagree with him.
Alexander called this "typical of street brawls and political campaign consultants," but it's hard to see how White House staff publicly disagreeing with congressional critics rises to either level.