WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger is standing behind his inflammatory letter to potential donors in which, citing his role as chairman of the Congressional Taskforce on Terrorism, he charges President Barack Obama with being “Enemy Number One” and adds that the president has been influenced by an “Islamo-Communist upbringing.”
The freshman Charlotte, N.C., Republican say the words in the letter are factually true, but that critics are taking them out of context by inserting comparisons to terrorism groups. He said the letter touts his fight against access to abortion, the new national health care law and other issues of importance to conservatives. He said the letter was more of a message to disgruntled conservatives that he is on their side. Pittenger said Obama should be the target of their passion.
“My point is we need to quit fighting against each other,” Pittenger said in an interview Friday. “The enemy is not me. The enemy is Barack Obama.”
The fundraising letter, drafted by direct mailing firm Response Unlimited, was sent out days after tea party candidate Mike Steinberg announced he would challenge Pittenger in the primary. Steinberg said in an interview that Pittenger is not a true fiscal conservative. He cited Pittenger’s vote to raise the debt ceiling in order to end the recent government shutdown.
The use of inflammatory language in a fundraising letter is no surprise. One of the most effective ways to get people to pull out their checkbooks is through fear, said Eric Heberlig, a political scientist professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. It’s about scaring voters so much, he said, that they think if they don’t send the politician their dollars, the other guy will win, and their lives will be dramatically changed for the worst.
Heberlig said the fundraising challenge may be even tougher for Pittenger, who is expected to win the primary. It’s harder to convince supporters to help a candidate if they don’t feel their money is needed to win, he said. It would be almost a disservice if Pittenger’s fundraising consultants didn’t use strong language in an effort to raise money for their client, Heberlig said.
But he added it does raise questions about the authenticity of what the congressman has said in public.
Pittenger has been using more conciliatory language publicly and touts his efforts to work in a bipartisan way.
“It speaks to the fact that what many people dislike and distrust in politicians,” Heberlig said. “They think politicians will say whatever the audience wants to hear. I generally don’t think that’s true, but here’s a case where it’s potentially happening.”
The campaign letter came in an envelope advertising it as an “urgent message from Congressman Robert Pittenger, Chairman of the Congressional Taskforce on Terrorism & Unconventional Warfare.”
The use of his chairmanship and additional phrases like “no less than Western Civilization Hangs (stet) in the Balance” drew criticism that Pittenger was saying Obama was more dangerous to the American people than terrorist groups such as al Qaida. Those making the comparison included The Charlotte Observer editorial department and The Dish’s Andrew Sullivan, who first posted the letter. Sullivan called it “a fundraising screed filled with the usual apocalyptic Tea Party claptrap.”
Pittenger said those associations were wrong, but that politically Obama is the nation’s greatest enemy.
“Barack Obama has been the architect of policies that have hurt our country domestically as well as foreign,” he said in an interview.
As for Pittenger’s contention that Obama had an “Islamo-Communist” upbringing, the congressman said Obama’s father was a communist. The suggestion that the president’s father, who left him when he was a toddler, was a communist has been promoted for years by some right-wing groups. Fact-checking websites, including Politifact, say there’s no evidence that either of Obama’s parents was communist.