Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., joined by attorneys Paul D. Clement, far left, and Rick Esenberg, second from left, announces that he has filed a lawsuit to block the federal government from helping to pay for health care coverage for members of Congress and their staffs, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Ron Johnson flunks listening comprehension

Towards the end of President Obama’s remarks on national security Wednesday night, it seemed pretty obvious that he was once again relying on the notion of American exceptionalism as a defense for intervention abroad. I figured, at a minimum, it’d be a while before his critics on the far-right started attacking his patriotism.
He did the exact same thing last September, telling the country, ”For nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security…. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world is a better place because we have borne them.”
It took less than 24 hours for Sen. Ron Johnson (R) of Wisconsin to pretend Obama said the opposite.
“[The president] just has such a reluctance, such a revulsion to actually leading, utilizing America’s military strength,” Johnson said in an interview with NewsMaxTV’s program Midpoint Thursday.
“Remember this is the president in the first part of his term who apologized for America,” he said. “He doesn’t believe that America is a force for good in the world. He thinks our involvement in the world actually makes matters worse. That we upset people because we engage in the world. Because we lead.”
I’ve long marveled at Ron Johnson’s deeply odd approach to reality, but this was jarring, even for him.
Even if we put aside the scurrilous “apologized for America” garbage, what’s truly remarkable about the far-right senator’s strange condemnation is that Johnson said Obama “doesn’t believe that America is a force for good in the world” less than a day after Obama made a forceful case that America must be a force for good in the world.
It’s as if Johnson isn’t just struggling with current events; he’s also flunking listening comprehension.
Consider exactly what the president told the nation on Wednesday night: The remarks were unambiguous.
“Our technology companies and universities are unmatched. Our manufacturing and auto industries are thriving. Energy independence is closer than it’s been in decades. For all the work that remains, our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history. Despite all the divisions and discord within our democracy, I see the grit and determination and common goodness of the American people every single day – and that makes me more confident than ever about our country’s future.
“Abroad, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world. It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny. It is America – our scientists, our doctors, our know-how – that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so that they can’t pose a threat to the Syrian people or the world again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, and tolerance, and a more hopeful future.”
One can agree or disagree with the president’s policies, but in what universe does someone – an elected U.S. senator, no less – hear these remarks and think Obama “doesn’t believe that America is a force for good in the world”? Just how far gone does a partisan have to be to hear this presidential address – one in which the Commander in Chief announced an expanded military operation abroad – and conclude that Obama “thinks our involvement in the world actually makes matters worse”?
If Johnson wants to hold the president in contempt, that’s obviously his business. But if the senator wants anyone to take his disgust seriously, he’ll have to do better than this.