Monday, August 8, 2011


There is some surprising candor this morning from Ross Douthat, the conservative opinionater of the New York Times: Don’t get cocky, Republicans.

In reality, the next election may be no more transformative than 2008 turned out to be. The next Republican president may find himself as hemmed in and frustrated as President Obama has become. Meanwhile, America will still have a credit rating to fix, and a deficit to close.

That is good advice which they will ignore and run around like chickens in a rainstorm with their tea-bag hats and misspelled signs. The Republicans, the crew on Morning Joe notwithstanding, are in the thrall of the Tea Party and their take-no-prisoners Klan-ready mentality. Modesty, so richly deserved, and moderation, which they think is for losers, is not in their wheelhouse.

As for the rest of us, and after the Sunday chat show talking heads fest of navel-gazing and sage chin-stroking about the future of the Obama presidency, we are left with the typical third-year slump that faces all presidents: What oh what has happened to the Grand Dream of the Transformative Presidency? Those who pinned their hopes of sunshine and rainbows and wonderfulness on the election of Barack Obama and tried to dress him up as their dream date are bitterly disappointed that he was not able to banish all of the ills and flaws of the nation with the wave of his hand. Forget all that he has accomplished, beginning with healthcare and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and a litany of both law and policy that wouldn’t have gotten the time of day from the Republicans, and concentrate on the most important thing: what have you done for me lately?

It’s called reality. There is a post-coital letdown with a president, regardless of the party. FDR didn’t go far enough with the New Deal and was accused of being mercurial by his allies in Congress. John F. Kennedy’s memory is burnished by his assassination, but his administration was seen as stumbling and unsure at the time; the Cuban missile crisis was one step away from thermonuclear devastation. And Ronald Reagan, the Savior of the Western World, did not get Roe v. Wade overturned, did not get prayer back in school, did not shrink government (he left that to Bill Clinton), and he raised taxes nearly every year he was in office. Just as Christmas is never as good as the commercials and the carols hype it up to be, no president ever lives up to the bumper sticker, the stump speech, and the inaugural address.

Short-term memory loss seems to be all the rage today, and those who talk about primarying the president should at least answer one question: who are they going to get to replace him? That’s not a belligerent question in the form of “Oh, yeah?” It’s a legitimate one: who is the alternative for the Democrats? Or do you think that Hillary Clinton would have done a better job? (Kind of hard to imagine since most of Mr. Obama’s advisors in the first year were Clinton people, including Rahm Emanuel.) The point is that regardless of who the Democrats would have picked, they would have marched straight into the buzz-saw of the Republican intransigence and mindset that no one but a Republican should ever occupy the Oval Office and anyone else is obviously a usurper.

A lot of people either forgot their history or they believed that with the election of the first black man as president, this time it would be different. Not so, especially not for a president who has been faced with the most concerted campaign of lies and vilification organized by a very well funded and coordinated collection of political action groups, radio talkers, and a major cable television network. Hillary Clinton’s “vast right wing conspiracy” in the 1990’s was an ice cream social compared to this enterprise. The election campaign of 2010 was just pre-season; when it comes to 2012, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

And with that, I’m off to Canada for five days to see some real theatre.