Law? What Law?

Obamacare is the domestic bookend to the Syria foreign policy mess, where likewise the president made serial statements about red lines and game changers that were false, and never came clean about his own confusion.  After the invasion of Afghanistan, the growth of communism in Central America, the fall of the shah, the oil embargoes, and the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Jimmy Carter was entirely discredited as a world leader. Yet those fiascos pale in comparison to a failed reset, the Libya debacle, the Egyptian flip-flop, the Syria backdown, the latest Iranian deal, the alienation of Israel and the Gulf states, and rising tensions in the South China Sea.

As far as the law, what law? The president has established that he can nullify it by edict, even his own employer mandate and the statutory timetable of Obamacare. Federal immigration law has become a sort of Defense of Marriage Act non-statute. In comparison, George Bush’s meek “signing statements” caused a liberal uproar and drew the ire of constitutional law lecturer Barack Obama. Do we remember the liberal outrage back then of a Sen. Dianne Feinstein? (In 2oo6, the San Francisco Democrat said, “If the president is going to have the power to nullify all or part of a statute, it should only be through veto authority that the president has authorized and can reject — rather than through a unilateral action taken outside the structures of our democracy.”)

So why are the Obama polls still at about a 40% approval rating? In a word, President Obama is not to be judged by traditional criteria. At some point as a candidate in 2008 he achieved iconic status, which has made him immune from presidential audit.

As the first non-white president, Obama’s trajectory was not just seen as positive for the United States, but also his potential failure was feared as a collective setback. Obama brilliantly threaded the racial needle, serially reestablishing his fides as a minority candidate by weighing in unnecessarily in the Professor Gates psychodrama and the Trayvon Martin case, while offering soaring boilerplate about a racially blind and united America. The result was counter-intuitive: blacks, for example, could vote in unprecedented numbers on the basis of shared racial solidarity, while millions of whites who might be skeptical of his preparation, experience, and competence likewise could fixate on race: Obama’s presidency was good for the stability of the country or at least allowed them to feel good about soothing racial tensions while having to change little in their own lives.

Second, Obama changed the criteria of judging the presidency. Now it was not a question of performance but of intent, not of deeds but of words, not of a record but of an agenda. In this regard, Obama sized up the American electorate. He saw it not just as a red/blue or Republican/Democrat divide, but rather as an entire host of mini-antagonisms. An us/them boilerplate could be demagogued onto each of these divides, and thereby achieve a 51% majority consensus.

Gay marriage was not an issue in 2008, at least in the sense that Barack Obama opposed it. By 2012, civil unions and pledges of nondiscrimination were passé. Suddenly whether one supported gays marrying in the exact fashion as heterosexuals made him hip or homophobic.

Solyndra and its epigones were failures. Keystone probably would save fuel and prevent accidents. Greater natural gas production from federal lands would reduce air pollution. Global warming is a legitimate debate, given the lack of planet heating in the last 15 years. No matter: “wind, solar and millions of green jobs” sloganeering made some into Neanderthal polluters while others could become cool greens.

Young people were decimated by the Obama agenda from massive borrowing, static growth, and serial 7%+ unemployment. Again, so what? In this new divide, the properly cool were more likely for abortion on demand and free contraceptives, and were cozy with rappers and hipsters; others were bitter old fogies.