Obama supporters are beginning to feel more confident, or at least less embarrassed. A year ago, even three months ago, they were thinking: What a confounding, confusing loser this man is. They didn’t bother defending him never mind advancing him. But now they’re starting to get friskier. They believe there’s a new lay to the land: The economy is coming back, at least for now and at least a little; the Republican nominee will emerge so bloodied his victory will hardly be worth having; the Republicans are delving into areas so extreme and off point that by the end Mr. Obama will look like the moderate.
Here is a local Democratic political figure in conversation in New York: When you look at where we were after the crash in 2008-09, you look back and realize that whatever mistakes Mr. Obama made, “He got us through it.” He looked to me for agreement. That’s not really how I see it, I said. “But he got us through it!” Well, I said, in the sense that we’re here and not all dead, yes, but that would be an unusual standard by which to judge a president’s success.
We started to laugh, and he pressed on into foreign affairs. “He got Osama,” he said, “He kept us safe.” I’m not sure if he was knowingly mimicking what Republicans used to say in defense of George W. Bush: There was no second 9/11, “he kept us safe.” That grated badly on Democrats: “Are you kidding? He created catastrophes that will haunt us for decades!” One suspects it’s about to grate badly on Republicans.
Anyway, I heard two memes emerging, subliminal messages of the Obama campaign: “He got us through it” and “He kept us safe.” Or maybe they’re liminal.
It is true the Republican candidates are making the president look better, and part of it has to do with circumstances. They’re locked in battle, full of argument and attack. He gets to be serene, above it all. They’re accusing each other, he’s ignoring them. He pounds away on his issues, they have a thousand issues, a jumble of questions and answers and stands. There is no nominee and so no prioritizing of concerns, and therefore no central meaning. It’s all an acrimonious blur.
Good news: This may be the Republicans’ low point. Bad news: The low point may last until the convention, and through it. It’s all getting a little exhausting. Thus the relatively lackluster debate this week. Everyone looked a little tired, out of gas, each playing a role: Mitt as Fred McMurray in “My Three Sons” in the episode where he’s tired and the kids keep interrupting his nap, Rick as the soulful seminarian who’s sort of defensive. Newt morphed into Grandpa, holding his wrist and smiling.
For almost a year Rick Santorum was made of Teflon. No one bothered to attack him, he’s a nothingburger at 4%, just be nice in preparation for the inevitable moment when he takes the stage and endorses you with an awkward man-hug. Now he’s Velcro, and trapped in a web laid by the administration’s claim that the furor over the ObamaCare mandate isn’t about religious freedom and abortion drugs, it’s about crazy people trying to take away your contraceptives. This is as big a lie as you can tell in politics, and a deeply mischievous one: It not only muddies the waters but adds a new layer of meaningless alarm to the political landscape.