The most acute division on the right — the one that will give Mitt Romney the most trouble — is not between moderates and hard-core right-wingers, between electability-minded pragmatists and ideologues, or between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment. It is between those Republicans who disagree with Barack Obama, believing his policies to be mistaken, and those who hate Barack Obama, believing him to be wicked. Mitt Romney is the candidate of the former, but is regarded with suspicion, or worse, by the latter. The former group of Republicans would be happy merely to win the presidential election, but the latter are after something more: a national repudiation of President Obama, of his governmental overreach, and of managerial progressivism mainly as practiced by Democrats but also as practiced by Republicans.
It is unlikely that those seeking a national act of electoral penance for having elected Barack Obama are going to get what they are after. For one thing, the number of Americans who believe President Obama to be merely incompetent is far greater than the number of Americans who believe him to be, not to put too fine a point on it, evil. For another, that larger group of voters is, for once, probably right.
Presidents are cultural lightning rods, the last two more so than many others. This has some weird effects. George W. Bush was hated and loathed by the Democratic base, which is aggressively anti-religious and seeks to impose a liberal cultural homogeneity on the nation (the totems of which are gay marriage, abortion on demand, and the environmental liturgy) to such an extent that even unremarkable initiatives sent them into a panic when they bore the imprimatur of W. President Bush’s office of faith-based initiatives, for example, represented the sort of thing that could easily have been signed into law by Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. Far from representing the camel’s nose of Christian theocracy poking under the tent of the First Amendment, the office’s oversight council today includes the president of Seedco
, the founder of Asian Indian Women of America, Rabbi David N. Saperstein
, the president of Catholic Charities, the head of Big Brothers Big Sisters America, and the director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies — an all-American mix, with no Torquemada or Chillingsworth to be found. But because the initiative touches on religious organizations and was brought into being by President Bush, it was greeted in many quarters as though it were a revival of the Salem witch trials. Faith-based initiatives may be a good idea or a bad idea, but the program is not what its most hysterical critics thought it was.
President Obama, for his part, has signed some truly awful pieces of legislation into law: the stimulus package, Cash for Clunkers, and, most notably, Obamacare. Bad as these are, the reaction among some conservatives has been overblown, and I write that as the author of a book that contains the sentence, “Of course Obamacare is socialism.” The president has been described as a budding Hitler, a bush-league Stalin, a saboteur, a revolutionary, etc. But as lamentable as President Obama’s agenda has been, there is not much that is especially remarkable about it. President Obama is not a revolutionary Bolshevik; he is a conventional liberal of a very familiar kind. Obamacare is precisely the same sort of program that a Pres. Al Gore or a Pres. John Kerry might have signed into law. The most remarkable thing about President Obama is that, unlike even the masterly Bill Clinton, he managed to get a big part of the Democrats’ health-care agenda enacted as law. He did this with a major assist from his predecessor, who left him with a much more liberal Congress than might otherwise have been elected.