During the eight years of the Bush presidency, Republicans welcomed the return of executive power…and then some. Democrats, on the other hand, were rueful and chafed each time President Bush would make a remark about how much easier it would be to govern in a dictatorship. True conservatives warned that the unfettered, unilateral executive would someday return to opposition hands, and the GOP would regret empowering it with so many of the rings of power.
Barack Obama has arrived and handed the GOP the check for its eight years of executive excess. One item on the tab may be a second term for this Republican nightmare.
Consider just how easily President Obama has manipulated news events over the past two weeks. On April 27 he presented his long-form birth certificate to dominate one news cycle. Obscured in the hoopla at birthers’ expense–besides the obvious point that the reason the certificate was news at all was Obama’s own reluctance for so many years to provide it–were other events not so favorable to Obama’s fortunes. For example, the day after Obama’s weird press announcement about his certificate in which he said he no time for such silliness then high-tailed over for his appearance on Oprah, salacious information came out about Obama’s Kenyan father, including the likelihood he was a polygamist and that Harvard had asked the INS to provide them with reasons for expelling the elder Obama from the country.
Clearly this is the kind of silliness Obama has no time for, and thanks to his ability to manipulate a willing media, it vanished with little coverage. Non-entity Levi Johnston has had a longer shelf life than the much more interesting “slippery character” of Obama senior.
Regardless of how little importance one attaches to Obama’s parents and his upbringing–after all, his first memoir referred only to “dreams” of his father, not the actual man–undoubtedly halfway through his term such a story about a parent would normally be of more interest than his place of birth.
In terms of real news, Obama’s birth certificate also trumped–ahem–the first press conference ever given by a chairman of the Federal Reserve. Covering that and asking good questions would have had a much worse risk-reward ratio than beating up the birthers, so–despite our economy and the Fed’s importance to it–almost no one in the general public even knows the conference took place, much less what was said.
Compared with Obama’s dramatic build-up to his announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s death, however, the birth certificate play was the most timid of dress rehearsals. Not only did Obama show supreme moxie in cutting in on rival Donald Trump’s TV show, he was able to scoop virtually everyone. Thanks to Twitter, I knew around 10:25 p.m. or so what Obama was going to say–that is, about five minutes before he originally scheduled himself to talk–but the details were mostly inaccurate, and that something of this magnitude could be controlled at all with the information flow we have now astounds almost as much as the raid itself.
Since then, many have carped about the changing details and other mishandling by the administration of the story’s roll out. At the time I myself thought he should have started nearer to his original announcement, rather than letting precious minutes slip away in which people on the East Coast at least started going to bed. His Thursday speech at Ground Zero was very tepid. But all that misses the main point.
On April 20 just before Obama released his birth certificate, his numbers in the RealClearPolitics average of polls were 50.0 disapproval, 45.3 approval, or negative 4.7 percent. Today they are 42.4 and 51.5 , respectively, which is 9.1 positive, a swing of 13.8 points–and the trajectory is still going up. Nor is this the first time Obama has enjoyed such a bump of his own making: after Democratic losses in November, Obama’s tax-cut/budget deal produced a similar roil for the President. In other words, twice in just the last five months or so, Obama has managed to inflate his poll numbers almost instantaneously from likely loss to likely win, were the election held now.
Such events can work both ways, as the 2008 election showed, when John McCain went from a brief lead in the polls immediately post the Republican convention into a tailspin because of the financial crisis. Afterward his candidacy was doomed. Yet had McCain been in office and the actual President, he would have at least had a chance of benefiting from the news. No one wants such a meltdown to occur on his watch, but even a disaster of the magnitude of September 11 can accrue to an incumbent’s advantage, provided he can exhibit leadership and demonstrate to the American people that he is up to the crisis.
President Obama understands this. Although he has not proved able or competent in many ways as leader and chief executive, the ability of his machine to rise to the challenge and unabashedly play hardball politics–to win, baby–remains clear. Republicans who were sinking into complacency and believing their own narrative that Obama was Carter II have had cold water splashed in their faces–deservedly so.
In a little over half a term, Obama has consolidated leftist power to a degree never previously experienced in America, a shift as radical in its time as FDR’s New Deal. He took over a good chunk of the domestic automobile industry, the financial services sector, and student loans in their entirety. He has appointed two radical Supreme Court justices, begun the nationalization of health care in the teeth of widespread domestic opposition, and bankrupted the treasury to the point that almost everyone concedes tax increases and defense cuts are necessary. As recently as ten years ago it would have been unthinkable that a person with Obama’s first-term record of both substance and style would have had a snowball’s chance in Death Valley of winning a second term. The frightening thing is should Obama be re-elected, whatever moderating influence his desire for a second term has had on him will be gone, and as Al Gore would say, he can start “letting her rip.”
Consider, however, that Obama can afford to give much electoral ground from his 2008 triumph and still come out on top. Karl Rove points out that the census alone would shift seven of Obama’s votes from his to McCain’s column, but in a race Obama won more than twice as many EV as his opponent, who’s counting? Those who voted for him the first time would love to have that early faith vindicated and return to the fold, which is why it is so easy for Obama to enjoy these big jumps in popularity; the press, too, still likes to get that old tingle in its leg.
And then there is the lackluster GOP field, but that’s another story.
It’s true that Obama cannot produce new Bin Ladens at will to execute for increased popularity. Yet the one has been sufficient to stop the bleeding and reignite belief in Obama’s basic competence (deservedly or no). In 2002 and 2004, Bin Laden helped the GOP’s chances, and in 2012 he has for the moment saved Obama’s. The current President is no Jimmy Carter: regardless of a helicopter crash now and then, this President’s re-elect mission goes on.