Barack Obama's favorability in the polls falls when he is himself - overexposed, hard left in his news conferences, and boastful about legislative achievements such as Obamacare and a stimulus of more than $1 trillion.
Then a strange thing happened. President Obama largely went quiet. Often he was out of sight, vacationing in Hawaii or golfing. It was almost as if he learned that the less he was seen or heard, the more Americans liked the idea of Mr. Obama as president rather the reality of his constant "Make no mistake about it" and "Let me be perfectly clear" sermonizing.
Mr. Obama has now edged ahead of his potential Republican Party rivals in the polls. He waited for the noisy Republicans to grab national attention in the debates and primaries before moving hard left to firm up his base. So while the nation was amused, repelled and bored by the constant back-and-forth over Mitt Romney's moneymaking and Newt Gingrich's marriages and off-the-cuff philosophizing, Mr. Obama matter-of-factly canceled the vital Keystone pipeline project.
He even more quietly prepared to ask Congress to raise the debt ceiling above $16 trillion to accommodate his fourth consecutive reckless trillion-dollar-plus annual deficit - while planning to slash the defense budget in the next decade. Did anyone notice that he made controversial "recess" appointments - which, as a senator, he had opposed - when most thought Congress was not really in recess?
Mr. Obama now rarely talks about his supposed signature achievements, whether the huge deficit "priming" or the unpopular Obamacare. Republicans have only controlled the House of Representatives for the past year, yet Mr. Obama now blasts them for stopping what he, in theory, wanted to do as president. In contrast, he hardly praises the Democrats, who controlled both houses of Congress for twice that time and enacted all that he wished. How strange to keep silent about successes only to broadcast failed what-ifs.
President Obama now campaigns on events that happened despite, not because of, him. His Cabinet has cut federal oil leases by 40 percent, subsidized money-losing and now bankrupt green companies, and in the past openly wished that gas and electricity prices would skyrocket to make alternative energy cost-competitive. But recently, he bragged that we are pumping more oil than ever. Natural gas is suddenly no longer an earth-warming pollutant but welcomed in vast abundance.
Left unmentioned was the cause of this unexpected energy bounty: The economic stagnation between 2009 and 2012 has curbed energy demand, while private entrepreneurs have used new fracking and horizontal drilling technology on largely private lands to revolutionize the production of fossil fuels. Again, Mr. Obama seems to take credit for things that occurred over his opposition - as if to say, "You will like what they didn't let me do." In the fine tradition of American politics, the successes of others are Mr. Obama's; his failures are the failures of others.
Both as a candidate and early in his term, Mr. Obama blasted all the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols as either unnecessary or illegal. Iraq was a "dumb" war, and he declared the surge a failure.
But as president, Mr. Obama expanded these intelligence measures, and used a beefed-up military to kill Osama bin Laden and go after al Qaeda captains. He followed the Bush-Petraeus timetable of withdrawal in Iraq and praised our successful nation-building there.
One could almost infer that Mr. Obama is now happy that he did not fulfill his earlier promises to close Guantanamo, end renditions and tribunals, prune back the Patriot Act, and get out of Iraq by 2010. George W. Bush is still to be blamed for the present stagnating economy, as he is never to be praised for crafting the security measures vital for our current successes.
This year, Mr. Obama will run not so much on what he really did in 2009 and 2010, but more on what he wanted to do, and was stopped from doing, in 2011 and 2012. The president will tell his base that he really wished to go green in a big way while telling Middle America that lots of oilmen went ahead on their own to find new gas and oil. For his liberal supporters, Mr. Obama really did want to end the anti-terrorism protocols and for the rest of America, he really did find those same protocols necessary to kill Islamic terrorists.
The message is clear: If voters do not see or hear the new un-Obama too often, if his left-wing legislative agenda is sidetracked, and if the private sector can ignore him, then voters may still sort of like the idea of him back as president.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at Stanford's Hoover Institution.
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