There’s a fair amount of irony surrounding the Republicans’ favorite attack of the week.
President Obama told business leaders at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that U.S. policymakers have been “a little bit lazy” when it comes to attracting businesses to American soil. Republicans have taken this line and said the president called Americans “lazy.”
But the point behind the dishonest smear is important. What Republicans are desperate for voters to believe is that President Obama, put simply, doesn’t even like Americans. It’s part of the years-long campaign to attack the president as The Other — there’s us, then there’s him, and the two don’t have much in common. It’s the basis for the “birther” garbage; it undergirds the “apologize for America” crap; it’s the point of the “American exceptionalism” attack; and it even fuels the incessant nonsense about “socialism.”
Mitt Romney, who’s only too pleased to exploit the borderline-racism behind these attacks, went so far as to argue this week that Obama called Americans “lazy” — even though he didn’t — because the president “doesn’t understand Americans.”
There’s us, then there’s him.
The “lazy” smear matters because it’s a lie, and because Republicans have quickly become obsessed with a talking point they made up. But it’d be a shame if we also forget that it’s ironic — President Obama doesn’t think Americans are lazy; Republicans do.
We saw some of this in Romney’s own book, when he complained that Americans “have tended to avoid the hard work that overcoming challenges requires.” American workers keep giving more and getting less, but as far as the wealthy, elitist Republican frontrunner is concerned, we’re still unwilling to roll up our sleeves.
But that’s really just scratching the surface. Consider, for example, what House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said this week when talking about American competitiveness:
“Part of it is the culture of people just having no work ethic…. Moral relativism has done so much damage to the bottom end of this country, the bottom fifth has been damaged by the culture of moral relativism more than by anything else, I would argue. If you ask me what the biggest problem in America is, I’m not going to tell you debt, deficits, statistics, economics — I’ll tell you it’s moral relativism.”
So, in the mind of Paul Ryan, one of the most influential Republican leaders in the country, America isn’t getting ahead because Americans don’t work hard and have the wrong values.
In other words, it’s our fault. We’re lazy.
This comes up all the time. Not long ago, Sen. Dean Heller (R) of Nevada compared Americans struggling to find work during a jobs crisis to “hobos.” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) said last year “the jobs are there,” but American workers don’t feel like taking them. Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky said the jobless ought to quit their bellyaching and “get back to work.”
Now compare all of this to Rick Perry’s latest attack ad, which tells viewers, “That’s what our President thinks is wrong with America? That Americans are lazy? That’s pathetic.”
Obama never said Americans are lazy; Republicans did. And that’s what’s pathetic.