It’s only fitting that Barack Obama, who so willingly brought America’s cult of the presidency to climax, should preside over its unceremonious collapse. Obama’s administration may well extend into the next four years. The signs of disappointment and disillusionment with his presidency, however, are now beginning to pile up.
In Democratic primaries in Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia, the president failed to capture some 40 percent of the vote. Some say it’s racism, the halcyon days of Racists for Obama long forgotten.
Polling conducted by Stan Greenberg, a Democrat, has Obama at 55 percent among young voters, down from the 66 percent who chose him instead of John McCain. Instead of a newfound hatred of the president, the missing 11 percent is more likely to feel a hatred of the presidency. In The Los Angeles Times, Neal Gabler describes the “scathing irony” of an “Obama effect” no one predicted: instead of lifting generations into political activism, “he has driven them out of politics and into service.”
Nowadays it even seems as if the president occasionally wants to drive himself out of politics. Despite shrieks of frustration, Obama hasn’t campaigned for Gov. Scott Walker’s recall in Wisconsin — probably because he doesn’t want to fudge his own campaign for re-election more than he already has.
Obama is a prisoner of his own choices, of course, but a good politician can make lemonade out of just about any policy lemon. Strangely enough, when the president is the problem, the president can take steps to find a solution. When people believe the problem is the presidency, however, a president is paralyzed — as Obama appears today. Remember “We Can’t Wait”? Sensing an opportunity to run against an unpopular, “obstructionist” Congress, the president made the mistake of believing in the inherent popularity of an overactive president.
A flurry of executive orders might satisfy slivers of the base, if they’re well-targeted. But when Obama is required to speak to the country as a whole, he reminds the American people of just how hollow and foolish the presidency has become.
His most recent State of the Union address drew the same line of criticism from across the political spectrum. “Billed as a populist response to the economic crisis, it was nothing of the sort. Rather, it was an exercise in jingoism, economic nationalism, and election year myth-making.” That withering judgment isn’t pulled from a libertarian or traditionalist conservative publication, though it well could be. It came from the World Socialist Web Site, published by the International Committee of the Fourth International.
Some respected analysts accuse the president of failing to articulate a second-term agenda. They’re wrong. He’s done it. It’s easy: MOAR PRESIDENCY.
The only problem is nobody’s buying. One-off gestures like Obama’s hastily improvised announcement on gay marriage might dominate a news week, but the rotten fruits of MOAR PRESIDENCY cannot be kept out of the public eye. They’re everywhere. And they’re bringing the right and the left together in opposition to marquee MOAR PRESIDENCY policies like the domestic use of drones and the never-ending drug war.
Obama’s first term has shown America what the presidency has become: the most powerful way in the world to do everything and succeed at nothing. If his presidency does implode by Election Day, it’ll happen in the same way as the global economic crisis happened, and for the same reason. Like the financial system, the executive branch is now a “black lake” — a system so large and complex that it has become radically unstable, with the sudden presence of a single “black swan” enough to send it crashing.
As a candidate for president, Barack Obama promised to fundamentally transform America. That promise was made to be broken, as his total incapacity even to modestly change the presidency reveals. His supporters united in hope for the best president ever. What they got instead was the most president ever.
James Poulos is a columnist at The Daily Caller, a contributor at Ricochet, and a commentator in print, online, and on television and radio. Recently he has been the host of The Bottom Line and Reform School on PJTV and a fellow of the Claremont Institute. His website is jamespoulos.com and his Twitter handle is @jamespoulos.