Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Divine Wisdom

Apostles of Paul?  Not Hardly

On the way to work I try to catch today’s Mass Readings on Gus Lloyd’s drive-time show ‘Seize the Day’, on Sirius Radio’s Catholic Channel.  It’s a small way to try to capture a moment of the Divine in this secular world.  With the surfacing of the mindless and silly activities of two of the country’s top Generals, I found today’s First Reading, from St. Paul’s Second Letter to Titus, to be both instructive and ironic.  It’s unfortunate our military brass didn’t take this and other Divine Inspiration a little more seriously: 

You must say what is consistent with sound doctrine,
namely, that older men should be temperate, dignified,
self-controlled, sound in faith, love, and endurance.
Similarly, older women should be reverent in their behavior,
not slanderers, not addicted to drink,
teaching what is good, so that they may train younger women
to love their husbands and children,
to be self-controlled, chaste, good homemakers,
under the control of their husbands,
so that the word of God may not be discredited.

Urge the younger men, similarly, to control themselves,
showing yourself as a model of good deeds in every respect,
with integrity in your teaching, dignity, and sound speech
that cannot be criticized,
so that the opponent will be put to shame
without anything bad to say about us.

For the grace of God has appeared, saving all
and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires
and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age,
as we await the blessed hope,
the appearance of the glory of the great God
and of our savior Jesus Christ,
who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness
and to cleanse for himself a people as his own,
eager to do what is good.

I understand the temptations of the flesh, and great men throughout history are seduced by primal instincts.  Paris and Helen of Troy; Mark Antony and Cleopatra; Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.  Nonetheless, one has to wonder whether our current situation in Afghanistan and in the intelligence community (does anyone remember Benghazi?) would be in a more ordered position if our ‘Leaders’ took the instruction of St. Paul to heart and served as an example of temperance, dignity, and self-control. 

Election Epilogue

                                         Inside footage of Republican operatives on Election Night

A little less than a week ago, the founders of this site were reeling as Swing State after Swing State reported their results and swung – hard – for Barack Obama and against Mitt Romney.  Obama won eight of nine of the hotly contested States, sealing the fate of the 2012 Presidential Election.  We are saddened, but not surprised, that our home State of Ohio provided Obama his winning edge. (See our previous post about the difficulties facing Romney in securing Ohio’s electoral votes.)  At the end of the process, Obama obtained the votes of approximately 51% of the electorate (62.1 million votes of 120.8 million ballots cast) and compiled an impressive 332-206 Electoral College victory to comfortably win reelection.  The Republican party is left scratching its collective head as exit polls suggest the ‘broken glass’ election they anticipated -- i.e., their supporters would crawl over broken glass to vote against Obama --  was far from a reality. 
The Sons took a little time to let these results, and the inevitable gloats of the winners and recriminations of the losers, wash over them.  We now offer the following brief post-election observations and commentary.
It’s Very Hard to Beat an Incumbent.  History proves that incumbent Presidents are rarely defeated.  In recent memory, the only exceptions are Jimmy Carter and George Bush (Senior).  (Ford was not an elected incumbent, so he doesn’t count.)  In the case of Carter, the country essentially threw him out of office.  We were experiencing an excruciating and demoralizing hostage crisis, Stagflation (the combination of very high unemployment and very high inflation), and a general sense of national malaise.  Ronald Reagan was a once-in-a-generation candidate who hit his stride.  Even in 1980, the polls suggested a dead heat until just before Election Day.  In the case of Bush Senior, I am convinced the dynamics of a viable three-candidate race (remember Ross Perot?), along with the last minute indictment of Casper Weinberger by the Iran Contra Special Prosecutor, altered the trajectory of that race and contributed mightily to Clinton’s victory in 1992.   
As an incumbent, Obama had the impressive and powerful levers of the Executive Office at his disposal.  Every day for four years, the public saw Obama as the sitting President, with Air Force One, the Presidential Seal, the State of the Union Address, daily press briefings and the occasional press conference, all reinforcing the fact that Obama is the President.  Not to mention the use/abuse of Presidential power practiced by this particular incumbent (Executive Orders benefitting unions, implementing immigration reform, altering welfare reform, the HHS Mandates, etc., as previously discussed in this blog) all of which enhanced his position with special interest groups.  Quite obviously, Romney did not make a convincing case that Obama should be unseated as the incumbent. 
The 2012 election is really the mirror image of the 2004 Kerry-Bush Election.  Kerry looked strong in several of the Presidential Debates, the incumbent seemed a bit flat-footed at the outset of the campaign, and momentum appeared to be on the side of the challenger.  In both elections, the incumbent pivoted and directed his campaign not so much as a defense of his first administration (compared to Reagan’s sunny and optimistic 1984 reelection campaign of “It’s Morning in America”), but an indictment of the personality and character of the challenger.  In retrospect, and as reflected by recent history, it is an uphill battle for any challenger to defeat an incumbent.    

                                        The Successful Reagan "Morning in America" Ads                    

                                         By contrast, here is an Obama 2012 ad against Romney
One additional note: the advent of early voting schedules across the country, in our opinion, gave Obama a running start from which Romney never recovered.  In our home jurisdiction of Hamilton County, the early voting lines were continuously long and consisted primarily of minority voters whom, we now know, nationally broke over 70% (Hispanic) and 95% (Black) for Obama.     
The War on Women…Worked.  An integral element of the Obama reelection campaign was the so-called “War on Women” waged by Republicans generally and Mitt Romney specifically.  The first salvo of the War was launched by Obama spokesperson ABC correspondent George Stephanopoulos during one of the myriad Republican Primary Debates when he asked Romney, seemingly out of left field, whether the States could legally ban birth control/contraceptives.  Romney responded as though George had just asked him his position on UFO Invasions.  Nonetheless, the seed was planted and the mission launched: the Obama campaign would fear-monger the Republican candidate – who turned out to be Mitt Romney -- as the evil Moralists at the Gate who would deny women their God-given right to practice birth control.  The HHS followed soon thereafter with its controversial mandates requiring all employers who offer health insurance to provide contraceptives, sterilizations and abortifacent drugs at no cost to their female employees.  (As we have discussed at length, this mandate applied to most Catholic employers, despite the fact the requirement directly contradicts and is in blatant violation of Church Dogma.)  Obama Campaign references to the life of Julia only drummed into the consciousness of the single woman that she is, essentially, a ward of the benevolent Federal masters (see Jack's insightful comments here.)  This was all part of a coordinated effort to woo single and divorced women to cast their ballots for Obama.      
Exit polls prove that single women broke hard for Obama.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that the farcical “War on Women,” as well as Obama’s position on other social issues (gay marriage), played a very significant role in this voting bloc.  While the Republican War on Women is of course a sham, imbecilic comments about rape made by Republican Senatorial candidates Todd Akin (Missouri) and Richard Mourdoch (Indiana) not only doomed their own campaigns but reinforced to the casual voter that there may be some legitimacy to this propaganda.  The Obama Campaign also seized upon a casual reference by Romney in the second debate to ‘binders of women’ as evidence of his inherent chauvinism.
Grudgingly, and disappointingly, we have to acknowledge the War on Women worked.    
The Demise of the Reagan Coalition?  Conservatives and Republicans speak fondly of ‘the Reagan Coalition’ – the combination of small business owners, rural farmers and ranchers, inhabitants of small and medium towns, blue collar workers (some of whom were union members), married couples and their families, evangelicals, etc., that drove Reagan to a convincing victory in 1980 and an electoral Tsunami in 1984.  Every Republican Presidential candidate since has yearned to resurrect the Reagan coalition in the hopes it would lead to electoral victory.  Bush the Elder won the 1988 election -- against a lackluster candidate (ironically, also a former Governor of Massachusetts) -- on the premise of a third Reagan term.  Bush was turned out of office with a viable third party candidate taking 20% of the vote, and when the country decided it no longer needed a Cold War President after the Berlin Wall fell.  Since the 1988 Election, Republicans have won the popular vote in only one of six Presidential elections (2004, when Bush the younger gained 51% of the popular vote, about the same as Obama in 2012).

                                                      Ronald Reagan: a giant of a man
Message to Republican candidates: it’s nearly impossible to recreate the Reagan Coalition when you do not have the qualities of a generational candidate such as Ronald Reagan.  Reagan honed his rhetorical skills for years as an actor, a spokesman for General Electric and Wagon Train, a public speaker and radio commentator.  He was a successful two-term governor of our largest state – California -- in difficult times, and learned how to cobble together warring factions to win elections against popular incumbents.  Reagan could easily have been the Republican Presidential nominee in 1968, should have been the nominee in 1976, and was a popular nominee in 1980 and 1984.  Reagan spoke eloquently and movingly of the promise of America.  He made Americans feel better about themselves and their country.  He stood unambiguously for personal responsibility and less Government, stronger national defense, and the defeat of the Soviet Union and related Communist menace.   
All that said, even the great Ronald Reagan would have a difficult time winning a Presidential Election with the 2012 Electorate.  The country has changed dramatically in the 32 years since Reagan was first elected.  The Soviet Union and Communism no longer pose a security threat.  China is now our largest trading partner.  Our most serious threat to national security is an amorphous, boundary-less terrorist mindset which is manifested throughout the world.  The U.S. is a different place socially than it was in 1980.  Gay and Lesbian interest groups are loud and proud, and demand political homage for their support.  We have fewer intact families, especially among whites.  Communication is instant and abundant.  Businesses must prove their environmental bona fides.  A Carbon Tax seems not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ and ‘how much.’ 
I am equally confident that a Ronald Reagan, were he to run today, would not waver from his core and fundamental principles of vital national defense, lower taxes, controlling the regulatory reach of government, strong families and communities, and personal responsibility.  Ronald Reagan is dead.  His coalition may not be recoverable.  But future Republican candidates must conform Reagan’s core principles – which should continue to be the foundation of the Republican ideology - to today’s social and economic environment to create a new winning coalition. 

So, last Tuesday was not a good day for the Sons of Cincinnatus or, in our humble opinion, the country.  We lick our wounds and perform an autopsy on the unsuccessful Romney Campaign (and the pathetic Republican showing in most of the Senate races) so we can have a better day tomorrow and, optimistically, in the 2014 mid-term elections and four years from now as fresh slates of potential Presidential candidates emerge from both parties.  We implore the Republican House to stand firm against the tyranny of an empowered Executive and an even stronger Democrat majority in the Senate.  We urge the Republican leadership to anoint Rob Portman, the very capable Senator from Ohio, as the designated leader to recruit and train competent candidates for the 34 Senate elections in 2014.  We beseech the 30 Republican Governors to apply core principles of lower taxation, less regulatory burden, and personal responsibility in their respective States.
And we commit, here and now, to continue our effort to, in some small way, provide a unique perspective on the political news and trends of the day.  We hope you, dear reader, will continue to indulge us and join in the ride.          
And in the spirit of providing cinematic inspiration, we offer the following for your consideration:

Or this:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

One Eternity Later...

It sure feels like it, at least.
Well, here we are. Four years ago, this country voted for president, just as it had done for over 200 years. Four years ago, its voters elevated to the highest office in the land a young Senator from Illinois, who successfully rode a wave of popular resentment against the then-incumbent Republican Party. Four years ago, conservatism in America looked like a lost cause. Four years ought not to feel like a long time, but for me, at least, it has felt like an eternity--as has this campaign itself.

Just think of all the things that have happened in the past four years, political (the thwarted Green Revolution in Iran; the unsuccessful attempt by the late Arlen Specter to switch parties to win re-election; the Skip Gates incident; the "intervention in Libya") and apolitical (the creation of Twitter; the death, within one one week, of Farah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and Billy Mays; the release of not just one but two "Dark Knight" films)--all this, and much, much more.

These past four years have been an interesting time for me as well. Four years ago, I was a sophomore in high school, barely comprehending the political world but refusing to let that stop me from arguing superficially with peers about then-Candidate Obama and his "socialist" policies. Four years ago, I visited Washington, D.C., for the first time (and saw The Dark Knight on opening day while there). Four years ago, I watched passively--helplessly--as I saw the country make what I felt was the wrong decision. Back then, I had only an inkling as to why voting for Obama was the wrong decision, but it's an inkling that has developed into the full-throated rationale I hold today. Allow me to explain.

In 2008, Barack Obama was perhaps the most popular person in the entire world. Had John Lennon still been around, he might have quipped that the man was "bigger than Jesus." Voting, volunteering, and campaigning for him was in vogue, as was--especially--"liking" him on Facebook. All of this, to put it simply, disturbed me at the time, though I could not explain why. The closest I got to expressing it then was that Obama had around him the sort of cult of personality that mankind had previously only seen in fascist and communist countries. But this wasn't a sufficient explanation, then or now, because I knew that--as bad as I thought he was--he would never be anything close to a genocidal dictator, and that to compare him to one would be as useless in persuasion as it would have been exaggeratingly inaccurate. But this cult of personality still vexed me nonetheless.

Having observed politics obsessively now for four years, I think I finally understand why. The cult of Obama, though it has certainly abated in the years since it began, transferred to government and politics a nigh-omnipotent, omni-present character through association. In the Age of Obama, people were to find meaning through politics, and government was to become the sole instrument of progress toward some unspecified but somehow realizeable earthly near-perfection. Obama himself became more than a politician, even more--at times--than a man; government become more than a collection of people; and politics became more than a hardfought process of give-and-take. Obama imbued all of these things with a redemptive quality typically reserved only for religion and similar enterprises.

Realizing this allowed me to put a finger on the ideology that President Obama and his adherents represent. It is not socialism, fascism, communism, or some form of totalitarianism. Nor is it even conventional liberalism. If pressed to pick a word for it, I'd choose "statism." Statism, as I define it here, is a worldview that sees the state not necessarily as all-inclusive, but rather elevates it to social primacy. In this paradigm, government precedes and preempts civil society and carves out for itself a place in nearly all signficant public and private considerations, and politics of necessity becomes an ever-present feature of both public and private spheres. Not long ago, I would have derided the views I present here as exaggeration, as no doubt some of my readers will as well. But three events in the past year have demonstrated clearly to me what President Obama represents.

The first is the hideous promulgation by the Secretary of Health Human Services Kathleen Sebelius (a Catholic from Cincinnati, no less!) of the so-called "HHS Mandate." For those unaware, this ultimate vindication of Rep. Pelosi's statement that "we have to pass [Obamacare] to know what's in it" forces virtually all Catholic business, organizations, and entities that do not cater to exclusively Catholic patrons to provide birth control to all employees--a direct violation of Catholic teaching. Despite what Vice President Biden has said, this mandate will go into effect, and it will put millions of Catholics in the awkward position of either disobeying civil law or violating their own consciences.

Whether the Obama Administration decided to issue this mandate for health reasons, political reasons, both, or other concerns, one thing was clear: it had little regard for the place of Catholic Church, the world's oldest continually existing institution, in civil society. To the Obama Administration, Church and State should not only be separated, but one ought to dominate the other. As a Catholic, seeing State persecute Church in 21st-century America not only awakened me to the importance of my faith, but also demonstrated the contempt in which Obama and his ilk hold non-government actors in civil society. Longtime readers will recall that this blog more or lesss began as the series of email exchanges and telephone conversations between its two authors in the immediate aftermath of that HHS Mandate.

The second is the Supreme Court's decision in NIFB v. Sebelius. In the days leading up the decision, I had thought the nominally conservative 5-4 majority on the Court would strike down the Affordable Care Act in at least some significant way. And I continued to think that until about ten minutes after news of the decision leaked, during which time many news outlets were erroneously reporting that the Court had done so. But the truth emerged soon enough: Chief Justice John Roberts had simultaneously rejected the liberal justices' view that the Commerce Clause justified the Act's individual mandate and the conservative justices' view that the whole Act ought to be struck down by rewriting the legislation as a tax, allowing him to rule it a legal extension of Congress' taxing power. The ruling was of such legal dubiousness that I'll maintain to my dying day that Roberts caved to crass intimidation out of the liberal press, Democrats in the Senate, and even the President himself.

But Roberts' sell-out itself was not the most depressing outcome of the day. That would have to be the ruling itself, which had the Supreme Court put its stamp on the single most radical extension of government power in the nation's history. Never before in this country has the federal government mandated the purchase of a private product simply as a consequence of citizenship, yet such an arrangement is at the center of the Affordable Care Act. If Romney does not win the election (and maybe even if he does), then the Supreme Court will have permitted a piece of legislation that fundamentally alters the relationship between citizen and state, and one that is likely to move this country's political center inexorably leftward.

The third and final is the summer I spent in Washington, D.C., my first time there since the last presidential election cycle. As an intern without a car or a home of his own to speak of while there, I still managed to distill a considerable portion of the city's essence. And what did I find? I found an evil city, full of people whose professional lives mostly consist of finding ever more creative ways to move more of the country's money, power, and influence toward themselves--at our expense. It is a city that produces no wealth of its own, yet has--in the age of big government--somehow managed to enrich the counties it neighbors to the status of the nation's wealthiest.

That wealth is undeniably a consequence of a larger federal government. And yet what have we gotten for it? The growth of the federal government has, in fact, brought about a politics simultaneously less effective and more frustrating, as local and state issues become national issues, and apolitical issues become political, as fallible politicians at the national level attempt to deal with problems about which they know essentially nothing, and as the political sphere expands to match the growth of the government's sphere.

It doesn't have to be like this. In my ideal world, presidential elections are relatively inconsquential affairs, because most problems of import are dealt with at the state and local levels, where accountability and honesty are more easily enforced.  Frustration with politics fades away as it matters less, and as the issues that remain pertinent are more easily solved with local knowledge. Most important, we are freer to enjoy the apolitical things in life; after all, the best things in life have nothing to do with politics. And that is something Obama and his supporters either do not understand or fail to appreciate.

Alas, we do not live in my ideal world, or anyone's ideal world, for that matter. We live in a world full of fallible people, most of whom seem to become politicians. The less these people have to do with our own lives, the better. If there's one thing I've learned from following politics as obsessively as I have for the past four years, it's this: it is unhealthy to follow national politics as obsessively as I have for the past four years. I shouldn't have to do it--nobody should.

And yet, we must. I cannot simply choose to reject reality and substitute my own. The political environment we inhabit has made politicians far more important than they ought to be. This is why Romney and Ryan have earned my vote. They do not invite messianic comparisons; their ticket is not all that historic (Romney's Mormonism excepted). But they also do not promise much more of themselves than competence and leadership. In an age that has seen such a stark divergence between what people expect our government to do and what it can actually do; with deficits high, unemployment stagnant, and the non-government actors in civil society threatened--perhaps now is a time that we need competence rather than misguided inspiration from a politician whose very worldview is premised on the fallacies of redemptive politics and reincarnated philosopher-kings. Perhaps now is the time for a president who will limit the scope of the federal government to the tasks which it ought to handle, while at the same time allowing non-federal, civil, private, and individual actors to flourish in the remaining spaces.

We shall find out soon.


Thank you for reading this blog as we approached election day. Whatever happens over the next few days, we will continue to post.

Free Your Mind

“This is your last chance.  After this, there is no turning back.  You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.  Remember, all I’m offering is the truth.  Nothing more.”
Our country is at a tipping point.  As voters we must decide today between two visions of our country’s future.  One vision is fully illustrated by the events of the past four years.  We have no reason to think if Obama is reelected the next four years will be any different from the past four years.  In fact, just yesterday President Obama bragged ‘we’ve tried our way, and it’s worked.’  Let’s take a look at the reality of the Obama vision of our country, the blue pill as it were. 
It is a vision of massive Federal spending and borrowing and $5 Trillion in debt.  This vision requires the Federal Reserve to run its printing presses at record pace, debasing the currency and eventually leading to the replacement of the dollar as the reserve currency of choice.  The Obama vision has structural 8% and higher unemployment, a 50% increase in food stamp recipients, and a weakening of our national defense infrastructure.  Most importantly, it is a vision of the federalization of every facet of our daily lives.  It starts with health care, and the nationalization of 15% of our economy.  Make no mistake, the full implementation of ObamaCare will lead to HHS and IPAB assuming complete autonomy in any significant health care decision, the steady erosion of the employer-provided model of health insurance, and soon enough a single payer system administered by the Federal Government.  We know from off-microphone speeches that Obama supports the single-payer model, and views the present ObamaCare legislation as a step in this direction.  This will supercharge an already overburdened Federal Budget Deficit. 
Religious liberty, a bedrock founding principle of our country, will continue to be threatened as HHS and IPAB mandate not only institutional provision of abortifacents, sterilization and contraceptives, but soon enough the payment of voluntary and discretionary abortions.  Does anyone really doubt this Administration will, in a second term, order religious institutions to defy their dogma and finance abortions for their employees?  And once the government cracks that code, what is the limiting principle on the intervention of the Federal Government in religious affairs?  The Administration will have taken the measure of the Catholic Bishops and concluded they are powerless to defy government orders.  This vision continues with the federalization of education, from educational requirements in all localities from K-12 and the management of all college student loans.  As we know, once the Federal Government begins passing out and/or controlling the flow of federal largess, it becomes the master of the affairs of its recipients.  Our Federal Government will continue its expansion of its role in the financing and control of the housing industry.   Decisions about how America fuels its cars, heats its homes and powers its factories will be coordinated by the same ‘government entrepreneurs’ who brought us Solyndra, 123 Energy, and other billion dollar boondoggles and bankruptcies in the alternative energy economy.  A market-based energy economy will be a thing of the past, starting with coal and continuing to oil and natural gas, regardless of whether solar and other alternative sources of energy are technically ready to replace these reliable sources.  President Obama also promises to do for other industries what he has done to the American automotive industry, and that means government intervention if not outright supervision and control. 
Perhaps this is the vision of America which its’ voters desire.  This vision empowers Federal bureaucrats to exert control over an ever-increasing portion of the daily lives of our citizens.  It concentrates power in Washington D.C. and with the President and his Executive Agencies.  Everyday decisions will be outsourced to Federal Regulations and managed by administrative guidelines.  The individual creativity, innovation, and energy which made this a great country will be funneled and directed to a centralized authority.  Life could be easier, with fewer market choices and less need for decisions but ultimately less opportunity for risk-takers.  Of course, this Federal model must be fueled with greater revenue sources, which means higher taxes on everyone, either directly or indirectly.  Eventually those creative, innovative thinkers who support an expanding economy will look outside the United States for an environment where their ingenuity can be rewarded.  Doesn't history prove that ultimately this is how all great empires die?
Now let’s look at the vision of a Romney Administration, the red pill.  This vision challenges the country to return to a full employment model, and establishes a methodology for achieving it.  This vision calls for the immediate repeal of ObamaCare, and the implementation of sensible market-based insurance reforms.  Paired with Paul Ryan, it actually establishes a budget which leads to balance yet doesn’t eviscerate the safety net upon which some Americans rely.  The Romney vision tackles structural deficiencies in the entitlement programs, which were created up to 80 years ago and are in serious need of revision and updating to address a modern society.  Romney’s directive is to reduce federal government spending below 20% of GNP, from its lofty heights approaching 25% (and on an upward trend).  This will be accompanied by a reduction of tax rates but a simplification of the complicated deductions and loophole system which requires any average American to employ a tax accountant or at least an automated program to prepare the simplest of tax returns.  A Romney Administration will not meddle in the affairs of religious institutions, and impose mandates which are in vile contradiction to their religious tenets. 
Most important, this vision calls for the empowerment of Americans of every stripe to take accountability and responsibility for their families, their businesses, and their futures.  Yes, it will be challenging and require individuals to sometimes make hard decisions which, on occasion will be wrong.  But isn’t that the basis upon which our country was founded?  Isn’t this the very definition and quality of what the Founders meant when they guaranteed Americans the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? 
We’ve seen the reality of the blue pill vision.  It doesn’t work.  We know this.  Reported and provable facts support this conclusion.  Do not be Blinded by the Light of Bruce Springsteen and JayZee concerts. 
Today is the day.  We have complete control of our destiny.  Like Neo, you need to choose.  Will it be the red pill or the blue pill?  God Bless us all and guide our country in this momentous decision.   


Sunday, November 4, 2012

The President Behind the Myth

Pay no attention to the President behind the myth!
Over the weekend, Peggy Noonan attempted to put her finger on the nation's political pulse, as is often her wont, by detailing President Obama's meeting with reality over the past four years. Here are some key bits (though the whole thing is worth reading):
All of his stars were perfectly aligned. He could do anything. And then it all changed. At a certain point he lost the room... 
Why did the president make such mistakes? Why did he make decisions that seemed so unknowing, and not only in retrospect? Because he had so much confidence, he thought whatever he did would work. He thought he had "a gift," as he is said to have told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He thought he had a special ability to sway the American people, or so he suggested to House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. But whenever he went over the heads of the media and Congress and went to the people, in prime-time addresses, it didn't really work. He did not have a magical ability to sway. And—oddly—he didn't seem to notice. It is one thing to think you're Lebron. It's another thing to keep missing the basket and losing games and still think you're Lebron. And that really was the problem: He had the confidence without the full capability. And he gathered around him friends and associates who adored him, who were themselves talented but maybe not quite big enough for the game they were in. They understood the Democratic Party, its facts and assumptions. But they weren't America-sized. They didn't get the country so well. It is a mystery why the president didn't second-guess himself more, doubt himself. Instead he kept going forward as if it were working.
Now, some readers might question Noonan's objectivity. After all, she was a speechwriter for the first President Bush who has written positive books about President Reagan and, to top it off, writes for the conservative opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal. All true. But here's what she said about then-candidate Obama in 2008:
He has within him the possibility to change the direction and tone of American foreign policy, which need changing; his rise will serve as a practical rebuke to the past five years, which need rebuking; his victory would provide a fresh start in a nation in which a fresh start would come as a national relief. He climbed steep stairs, born off the continent with no father to guide, a dreamy, abandoning mother, mixed race, no connections. He rose with guts and gifts. He is steady, calm, and, in terms of the execution of his political ascent, still the primary and almost only area in which his executive abilities can be discerned, he shows good judgment in terms of whom to hire and consult, what steps to take and moves to make. We witnessed from him this year something unique in American politics: He took down a political machine without raising his voice.
Noonan's opinion on the President, then, has gone from fervent praise to thorough disappointment in just about four years. One cannot fault her buying into the myth of Barack Obama - that he was a preternaturally gifted politician and leader. It was, in fact, quite in keeping with the spirit of the times. A sampling of opinion from journalists - who are supposed to "speak truth to power" and "afflicted the comfortable and comfort the afflicted" as part of an anti-authoritarian ethos that seems never to activate when a Democrat holds the White House - shows this quite plainly. Here's Ezra Klein, now at the Washington Post:
Obama’s finest speeches do not excite. They do not inform. They don’t even really inspire. They elevate. They enmesh you in a grander moment, as if history has stopped flowing passively by, and, just for an instant, contracted around you, made you aware of its presence, and your role in it. He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair. The other great leaders I’ve heard guide us towards a better politics, but Obama is, at his best, able to call us back to our highest selves, to the place where America exists as a glittering ideal, and where we, its honored inhabitants, seem capable of achieving it, and thus of sharing in its meaning and transcendence.
And Evan Thomas, then of Newsweek:
Well, we were the good guys in 1984, it felt that way. It hasn't felt that way in recent years. So Obama’s had, really, a different task We're seen too often as the bad guys. And he – he has a very different job from – Reagan was all about America, and you talked about it. Obama is ‘we are above that now.’ We're not just parochial, we're not just chauvinistic, we're not just provincial. We stand for something – I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above – above the world, he’s sort of God...
And Mark Morford, SF Gate columnist
Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a very high order, and they speak not just to reason or emotion, but to the soul.  
Now, the point of these selections is not to demonstrate an attitude held only by certain members of the media. Indeed, to deny President Obama's appeal to a vast swath of the electorate in November 2008 and early 2009 is to deny history. But to deny that the he has come a long way since then is equally foolish. Let us tackle each part of this myth, in turn.

1) Barack Obama is a great leader. Obama's supposedly incredible ability to inspire and orate was and remains the root of this view, still held by many of his adherents and partisans. It has, to put it lightly, remarkably little evidence. While some conservative critics of Obama often unfairly claim that the President never held a real job before being president, the truth of the matter is that he did have several jobs before being president, but demonstrated no exceptional quality of leadership in any of them; most of them, rather, barely involved executive responsibilities at all. Here is a list c. 2005:
  • Student, Occidental College/Columbia University, 1979-1983
  • Business International Corporation, 1983
  • New York Public Interest Research Group, 1984
  • Community Organizer, Developing Communities Project (Chicago), 1985-1988
  • Student, Harvard Law School, 1988-1991
  • Editor, Harvard Law Review, 1988-1989
  • President, Harvard Law Review, 1990-1991
  • Summer Intern, Sidley & Austin law firm, 1989
  • Summer Intern, Hopkins & Sutter law firm, 1990
  • Illinois Project Vote, 1992
  • Lecturer - Consitutional Law, Chicago Law School, 1992-2004
  • Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland law firm, 1993-2004
  • Illinois Senator, 13th District, 1996-2004
  • U.S. Senator, Illinois, 2005-present
Add in "Presidential candidate, 2006-2008," and "President 2008-2012," and that's it. The closest Obama gets to a position of leadership is President of Harvard Law Review, an admittedly prestigious post, though an academic one. He spent the rest of his professional life as a "community organizer," an intern, and a politician who sure liked to vote "present" (i.e., "no opinion). In the last presidential campaign, candidate Obama's lack of executive experience emerged as an issue even among mainstream outlets, he said that his leadership of his presidential campaign itself was sufficient evidence that he would be a good president.  

To be fair, the country in 2008 decided that experience wasn't a necessary qualification, and John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his VP candidate undercut that narrative significantly anyway. Obama became president, in part, by assuring the country that his lack of experience was a qualifier, that he was so untainted by Washington that he would be able not merely to cross but rather to transcend partisan lines. So how did he do? 
2) Barack Obama is a great politician.
President Obama's rise to prominence in the early 2000s did not result entirely from a great leftward lurch of the country starting near the end of the Bush years, as many of his supporters like to think. It was, if anything, more from his bipartisan tone, which he often struck back in those days. Here's what he said at the 2004 Democratic National Convention:
Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states.There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.  
Obama skeptics in 2007 and 2008 pointed to his liberal voting record (his ranking as 2007's most liberal senator, for example) as evidence that he would not govern as he spoke. But this myth of Obama persisted, though it began to fade away in the face of the push-and-pull of politics. In early 2009, as President Obama tried to negotiate the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through Congress, he replied to Republican objections by simply saying: "I won." Not long after that, when Sen. John McCain began to argue calmly with President Obama at the Healthcare Summit (remember that?), President Obama struck down McCain's objections by reminding him that "the election is over." Both bills ended up passing with scant Republican support. In the summer of 2011, during the heat of debt ceiling negotiations, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner had neared a deal when the President called for more tax increases; Boehner backed away, and Obama was furious. (And though this post is already too long to address it fully, let us not forget his striking inability to move public opinion to his side, as with the healthcare bill, which remains unpopular to this day despite dozens of speeches.)

The obvious rebuttal to the above paragraph is that the Republicans are simply so extreme that compromise with them was - and remains - impossible. But in 1994, the previous occasion on which "angry white men" voted conservatives into a large House majority, there was also a Democratic President: Bill Clinton, a favorite of this blog (not really). Clinton had to contend with a feisty group of Republicans led by Newt Gingrich. But in his contentions with Newt, Clinton always came out ahead. He outmaneuvered Gingrich in that era's government near-shutdown; and he famously "triangulated" to earn himself most of the credit for the the popular budget-balancing, trade-liberalizing, and welfare-reforming legislation of the era. So, what's the difference?

Bill Clinton, for all his faults, governed a red state for many years. He actually had to discover what Republicans were like, what they believed, and what they wanted well before he went into Washington. President Obama never had to do that. He has spent nearly all of his professional life in leftist habitats - academia, community organizing, Illinois - and so never had to deal with legitimate Republican opposition before becoming President; upon becoming President, he dealt with it poorly. That is unlikely to change.

So what has President Obama become on the eve of the election? No longer is he a post-partisan healer. No longer is he a Platonic philosopher-king. No longer does he even inspire much adoration from supporters; many 2008 Obama voters are weakly voting against Romney, an amazing recalibration. The myth of Obama has collapsed with the ecstasy of his supporters and support four years ago; the era of hope and change is over. What remains is nothing more than a conventionally liberal politician with inadequate leadership experience.