President Obama has fallen into the John Boehner trap. By attacking Boehner last week—emphatically, repeatedly, and by name—the president made himself look desperate. And by treating Boehner as practically an equal, Obama elevated him...
A word comes to mind about the Boehner gambit—unpresidential. Karl Rove, President Bush’s political adviser, offered four words—“nutty, demeaning, useless, ill-conceived.” So far as I know, a premeditated assault by a president on the leader of the opposition (minority) party in the House is unprecedented. Would Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, or any other president even have considered such a tactic? I suspect not.
Fred Barnes, December 2001:
For a month now, Republicans have gone after Daschle, charging him with obstructionism. The attacks started with conservative groups and Republicans in Congress. More recently, White House aides Larry Lindsey and Karen Hughes and Vice President Dick Cheney have joined in. Daschle, Cheney told Tim Russert on Meet the Press, "has decided . . . to become more of an obstructionist." Hughes told a group of Gannett reporters that Daschle has created a "void of leadership" in the Senate.
See also this Washington Post article from May 2002 which I wrote about at the time:
Daschle, speaking to an Associated Press reporter, said the key question for Bush is: "Why didn't he know? If the information was made available, why was he kept in the dark? If the president of the United States doesn't have access to this kind of information, there's something wrong with the system."
Democrats angrily accused the administration of attempting to stifle political debate, pointing to comments Thursday night by Vice President Cheney and to criticism leveled by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer during his daily briefing...
But White House communications director Dan Bartlett defended the administration's decision to fire back at the Democrats. Charging that Democratic comments on Thursday "are exactly what our opponents, our enemies, want us to do," he said: "We felt it required a swift response, and we felt that the vice president was the appropriate person to do it."
At a dinner of the Conservative Party in New York on Thursday, Cheney warned against "incendiary" rhetoric and said the chorus of criticism from the Democrats was "thoroughly irresponsible and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war."
(I suppose you could argue that Barnes means Bush himself didn't attack Daschle or other Democratic leaders by name, but that's a very generous parsing, especially since Bush preferred to attack straw men rather than identify his opponents. For more on Barnes, click here.)
Update 9/14 9:44 PM: As Rob points out, Barnes does specify "a premeditated assault by a president on the leader of the opposition (minority) party in the House is unprecedented" (my emphasis), which I missed. I'll concede that Barnes is not technically inconsistent, but this is a distinction without a difference -- the Bush administration clearly had no problem going after a minority party leader in a chamber of Congress. Would it be less unpresidential to go after the leader of the Senate? Why even narrow the domain to the House other than to exclude Daschle?
Update 9/15 4:52 PM: Correcting myself again, let me note that, as Barry points out in comments, Chait and I have forgotten that Daschle was Senate majority leader due to the Jim Jeffords party switch in both December 2001 and May 2002. In other words, Barnes isn't inconsistent, just hackish.