Nothing recedes like success. That's the oldest and most unforgiving rule of politics, and Barack Obama is living proof.
His stunning re-election last year erased all the fears that public adoration for him had cooled. Now, we were told, the romance would be as hot as ever. The Democrats would have a permanent majority; the pitiless application of state power would destroy the hated conservatives once and for all, with their pathetic obsessions with God, the Constitution and the traditional family, and it would be smooth sailing to an American welfare state, with everybody dependent on a government run by Democratic liberals, radicals and opportunists.
But that was before success began to recede. The president is not out of the game; presidents, with all the trappings and opportunities of power, never are, particularly a president with years left to control and manipulate the government. But this president is weakened to the point of ineffectiveness and his gloomy media chorus, if not yet silenced by cold reality, must now sing a different song.
No one, except for the vicious sopranos in that chorus, will be tempted now to accuse quite so loudly the president's critics of racism, bigotry and intolerance just for pointing out the flaws in his agenda or taking note of his personal and presidential shortcomings. That dog, in the telling bucolic cliché, won't hunt now. That dog is dead (and dead dogs smell bad).
The current scandals — Benghazi, IRS and the hounding of The Associated Press and other organs of the press — only emphasize what ails Mr. Obama and his administration, of the corruption and above all the incompetence. None of the scandals touch the president personally, nor are they likely to. Every president has a guard around him to make sure the dirt won't stick to him. But it's the accumulation of the dirt around him that renders him ineffective, impotent and what the English call "wet."
The president was elected in the first place because the nation embarked on a guilt trip, with millions of white voters out to show contrite repentance for the sins of segregation and decades of racial oppression. Barack Obama looked like the perfect candidate for the guilt-trippers: attractive, well spoken, educated and what Joe Biden called "clean." (This last could be construed as a bit racist, but Joe usually runs his mouth just to see what comes out of it, so he gets a pass).
No one was willing then to look very hard at Mr. Obama's background, his friendships with left-wing radicals and domestic terrorists, and his work as a "community activist" promoting left-wing causes. To look very hard would have ruined the thrill of a romance.
But Mr. Obama didn't do his due diligence, either. He has acted as president much as he did as community activist, when he sat in endless late-night bull sessions about all the things they could do if only they could shoot the bull at the White House. He paid no attention to learning the art of politics, how to persuade adversaries, to recognize opportunities to make friends of enemies, to forge compromises with people "on the other side."
Instead, he never hides his contempt and haughty disdain for people "on the other side," particularly those in Congress. Conciliation, as his Chicago pals Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn could tell him (and no doubt did), is for sissies. He has never bothered to find a consensus to promote his radical agenda because he knew there is no consensus for a community-activist agenda. The radical changes have to be imposed, by deceit if need be.
He wants to soak the rich, and even the thrifty he can portray as rich, and he won't compromise on budgets and taxes with the Republicans he prefers to damn as the evil well-to-do. He's not really interested in the hard work of foreign policy, of effectively dealing with Russians, Iranians, North Koreans or Palestinians. He prefers to blame Americans. He pushes "leftovers" from his first term, immigration reform and gun control, but neither bill is going anywhere. "He can impede a bill," observes Fred Barnes in the Wall Street Journal, "he cannot aid its passage."
He loves making speeches, but the speeches are frilly sound without much fury, and nobody listens. Now he's setting out to rout the Republicans with more jaw, jaw in the midterm congressional elections next year, though to what end is not clear. By both precedent and a cool assessment of prospects, adding Democratic senators will be difficult. Taking the House is highly improbable. But a speech is what he does best. The rest is incompetence.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
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