Tea Party Republicans are not known for their timidity. We are, after all, talking about a group of right-wing activists and lawmakers who push an agenda that's as aggressive as it is regressive, reject compromise, and demand brutal policy consequences for everyone who stands in their way.
It is therefore rather amusing to hear about President Obama being a big meanie.
When tea-party Republicans arrived in Congress in 2011, many were energized and ready to shake up Washington -- whatever the cost. But now, some are claiming that it is President Obama who is playing too rough.
Amid the government shutdown and debt-ceiling standoff -- which has raised rhetoric sharply -- they say the president has demonized what they consider healthy political opposition.
"The difference is, I don't think his predecessors have antagonized the other side," says Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., who was president of the tea-party-packed House Republican freshman class last session.
The sentiment was echoed by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who said Obama's willingness to antagonize Republicans is "not good for the country."
Wilson is perhaps best known for heckling the president during a speech to a joint session of Congress. He's the guy complaining about Obama antagonizing him.
I'll confess that I often find these lawmakers' perspective inexplicable, but this strikes me as unusually bizarre, even for them.
Love him or hate him, Obama's outreach to his rivals has no contemporary parallel. This Democratic president has brought Republicans into his cabinet and administration; he's incorporated Republican ideas into his agenda; and he's tried schmoozing Republicans outside of their official duties. He's adopted policy measures his Democratic base hates, but which he'll nevertheless tolerate in the hopes of bipartisan cooperation. He's tried meeting Republicans more than half-way on everything from health care to immigration, deficit reduction to energy.
I can think of a variety of adjectives to describe this, but "antagonistic" isn't one of them.
So what's driving this?
The current complaint seems to be about the ongoing crises on Capitol Hill, but even here, the president is hardly playing hardball. He accepted Republican spending levels and called for a spending bill with no far-right riders. If the right feels "antagonized" by this, maybe the problem is with them, not the Democratic president who already gave them what they asked for in the budget fight.
Besides, we are talking about a group of lawmakers who've not only shut down the government, but who've threatened to crash the global economy on purpose unless Obama meets their demands. Do we really need to have a conversation about "healthy political opposition"?
In the larger context, though, what I think we're seeing is something nearly as insidious. Republicans, filled with contempt for the president, are looking for an excuse to rationalize their disgust, so they've come up with ... this. He's hurting their feelings.
In other words, it's Obama's fault Republicans hate him because he made them hate him.