Critics of the president are convinced that Barack Obama will do lasting damage to the U.S. I doubt it.
Obama came to power in the third year of large Democratic congressional majorities. In his first referendum, he lost the House and he may soon lose the Senate; in other words, there followed a somewhat normal reaction against a majority party. Obama’s popularity rating is well below 50%, despite an obsequious media and a brilliantly negative billion-dollar campaign that long ago turned Mitt Romney into a veritable elevator-using, equestrian-marrying, canine-hating monster.
In the second term, there is little of the Obama bully pulpit left. “Make no mistake about it” and “let me be perfectly clear” can incur caricature, not fainting. “Really,” “I’m not kidding,” “I’m serious,” “in point of fact,” and “I’m not making this up” often prove rhetorical hints that the opposite is true. When Obama warns about gridlock in Washington, the “same old tired politics,” the dangers of a tyrant or king in the White House, the need for an honest IRS, or the perils of government surveillance, these admonitions have tragically become a psychological tic to warn us about himself. Former jokes about siccing the IRS on his enemies or using Predator drones to go after suitors of his daughters are as eerie as they are comedic.
Each new “historic” speech is by now mostly history repeating itself as farce. The Victory Column oration gave way to a flat vignette at the Brandenburg Gate. The Cairo speech follow-ups were mostly confusion about Egypt and Syria, without the fictions of the West’s underappreciated debts to Islam. The second Trayvon Martin aside on racial look-alikes was even more disturbing that the first. I don’t think Obama’s advisors will allow him to proclaim any more “deadlines,” or “red lines,” or any sort of lines at all in the Middle East.
Aside from Obama himself, no one in the post-Benghazi, -AP, -NSA, and -IRS scandal era references the president any longer as the former “professor of constitutional law.” In Obama’s case even the inflated title has become an oxymoron.
Ever so slowly, the press, albeit still for the most part privately, is learning that it has been had by one of its own. The breach of journalistic ethics turned out not to be a necessary means to an exalted liberal end, but instead was interpreted cynically by Obama as exemption for doing pretty much what he pleased — like going after AP reporters for leaking national security in a way the administration could only envy, given its own less impressive efforts to divulge what should not have been divulged. How odd that a truly adversarial press is an aid to conservatives in power, in keeping them on their toes about scandal, and how ironic that liberal media obeisance green-lights wrongdoing among those whom they deify.
What does the Arab Spring conjure up? Or “lead from behind”? Or “reset”? (If only Obama could envision Putin as George Zimmerman, we might get real on Russia.) Or an “OK” from the Arab League to act? Or CIA gun-running in Libya? Or the military non-response to Benghazi? Or the incarceration of Mr. Nakoula, the supposedly evil filmmaker? Or “al-Qaeda on the run”? Or the successive flip-flops on Mubarak, Morsi, and the Egyptian military? Or serial “deadlines” to Iran, or consecutive “red lines” in Syria? (If only these threats abroad carried as much weight as Obama’s promises to “bankrupt” coal companies and send our power bills “skyrocketing.”) Or the “peace-process” with the Palestinians? Or closing down the embassies of the Middle East? (If only Islamists were Republicans, they might be on the receiving end of real presidential threats like “punish our enemies.”) What do all these misadventures abroad have in common? I think the answer is nothing and everything: no consistency other than confusion.