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Running against a party, not an opponent

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) recently said she has "very little tolerance" for students drowning in student-loan debt, because young people seem to want opportunities "dumped in your lap." Soon after, President Obama was in North Carolina, reminding students of the lawmaker's rhetoric.

When Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) said the very existence of the student-loan program is a "stage-three cancer of socialism," it wasn't long before Obama was using that on the stump, too.

Steve Kornacki had a smart piece on this the other day, noting that the president is "discovering the one benefit of a Republican Congress dominated by true believers," by "making the crazy work for him."

For a president to call out little-known members of the House is a bit unusual, and by doing so Obama could be accused of punching down. But that would be misreading what he was trying to achieve. His purpose in bringing up the Foxx and Akin comments was to highlight the extremely conservative spirit that animates today's Republican Party. Their words might have been unusually provocative, but when it comes to policy, Foxx and Akin are very much within the mainstream of the GOP.

This gets to one of the challenges Obama faces as he seeks reelection: to make voters understand that a vote for Mitt Romney is actually a vote to empower a Republican Party that is dominated by Foxx- and Akin-types.

Quite right. In fact, this came to mind when I watched Obama's speech to the DNC's Women's Leadership Forum on Friday.

The president covered quite a bit of ground, but there was one portion of the speech that struck me as especially important.

This quote, in particular, jumped out at me:

"This contraception fight in particular was illuminating. It was like being in a time machine. Republicans in Congress were going so far as to say an employer should be able to have a say in the health care decisions of its female employees. And I'm always puzzled by this. This is a party that says it prides itself on being rabidly anti-regulation. These are folks who claim to believe in freedom from government interference and meddling. But it doesn't seem to bother them when it comes to women's health.

"Now we've got governors and legislatures across the river in Virginia, up the road in Pennsylvania, all across the country saying that women can't be trusted to make your own decisions. They're pushing and passing bills forcing women to get ultrasounds, even if they don't want one. If you don't like it, the governor of Pennsylvania said you can 'close your eyes.' It's a quote.

"It's appalling. It's offensive. It's out of touch. And when it comes to what's going on out there, you're not going to close your eyes. Women across America aren't closing their eyes. As long as I'm President, I won't either. The days of male politicians controlling the health care decisions of our wives and our mothers, and our daughters and our sisters, that needs to come to an end."

When using Foxx's and Akin's quotes, Obama didn't use their names, but he didn't have to -- he was simply taking advantage of their extremism. Similarly, the president didn't specifically reference Republican Govs. Bob McDonnell or Tom Corbett during his speech on Friday, but there probably wasn't a person in the room who didn't know who Obama was referring to.

In the larger context, it's a reminder that Obama is running against Mitt Romney in November, but he's also running against Romney's radicalized party and everyone in it.

"Making the crazy work for him," indeed.