If there’s anything that’s always struck me about the GOP’s response to Barack Obama, it’s the extent to which conservatives have grossly underestimated Obama’s political prowess. It seems obvious to me that the first African American president would be a terribly effective politician, but it’s a lesson Republicans are only beginning to learn—four months after Obama won a second term in the White House.
Conservative writer John Podhoretz has a skewed view of Obama’s priorities—he calls the center-left Democrat a “statist” who holds an “anti-exceptionalist” view of America—but he understands the extent to which Barack Obama is a formidable opponent that Republicans underestimate to their peril:
Barack Obama is a serious man. Yes, he likes to golf, and yes, he ran a campaign with cutesy Facebook pictures and seemingly inane Flash slideshows like “Life of Julia.” No, he does not seem interested in the mechanics of legislation, nor does he seem adept at negotiation. But the weird condescension his opponents display toward him is ludicrously wrongheaded. They seem eager to believe he is a lightweight, and he is not. Obama is very possibly a world-historical political figure, and until those who oppose him come to grips with this fact, they will get him wrong every time. [Emphasis added]
Let’s look at the work of Obama’s first term. The Affordable Care Act is an ambitious expansion of the welfare state. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a “new New Deal,” plowing billions into infrastructure and alternative energy, and saving the economy from a second Great Depression. And Dodd-Frank brought new regulations to Wall Street for the first time in a generation. In two years, Obama accomplished the business of two presidencies, to say nothing of his successful push to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
Obama has made his share of mistakes, but it’s hard to describe him as anything but a successful president. And yet, conservatives refuse to come to grips with this, and insist on opposing a fantasy Barack Obama who is two parts incompetence and one part megalomaniacal villainy. To wit, here’s Liz Cheney, writing for the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal:
President Obama is the most radical man ever to occupy the Oval Office. The national debt, which he is intent on increasing, has passed $16 trillion. He believes that more government borrowing and spending are the solution to every problem. He seems unaware that the free-enterprise system has lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system devised by man.
Maybe there’s a parallel Earth where Barack Obama was a Manchurian candidate for radical Islamists and has unleashed Marxist Sharia on the entire country. In which case, sure Liz Cheney, sure. But on this Earth, Obama is a moderate liberal with centrist priorities and a strong pragmatic streak. But Republicans refuse to see this, and in the battle for public opinion—to say nothing of political power—it’s cost them dearly.