Barack Obama’s favorability in the polls fell when he acted like himself — overexposed, hard-left in his press conferences, and boastful about legislative achievements like Obamacare and a stimulus of more than $1 trillion.
Then a strange thing happened. Obama largely went quiet. Often he was out of sight, vacationing in Hawaii or golfing. It was almost as if he had learned that the less he was seen or heard, the more Americans liked the idea of Obama as president rather than the reality of his constant “Make no mistake about it” and “Let me be perfectly clear” sermonizing.
Obama has now edged ahead of his potential Republican rivals in the polls. He waited for the noisy Republicans to grab national attention in the debates and primaries before moving hard to the left to firm up his base. So while the nation was amused, repelled, and bored by the constant back-and-forth over Mitt Romney’s moneymaking and Newt Gingrich’s marriages and off-the-cuff philosophizing, President Obama matter-of-factly canceled the vital Keystone-pipeline project.
He even more quietly prepared to ask Congress to raise the debt ceiling to over $16 trillion to accommodate his fourth consecutive reckless trillion-dollar-plus annual deficit — while planning to slash the defense budget in the next decade. Did anyone notice that he made controversial “recess” appointments when Congress was not really in recess — a tactic that, as a senator, he had opposed?
Obama now rarely talks about his supposed signature achievements, whether the huge “pump-priming” deficits or the unpopular Obamacare. Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives only for the past year, yet Obama now blasts them for stopping what he wanted to do as president. In contrast, he hardly praises the Democrats who controlled both houses of Congress for twice that time and enacted all that he wished. How strange to keep silent about successes, only to broadcast failed what-ifs.
President Obama now campaigns on events that happened despite, not because of, him. His administration has cut federal oil leases by 40 percent, subsidized money-losing and now bankrupt green companies, and openly wished that gas and electricity prices would skyrocket to make alternative energy cost-competitive. But recently he bragged that we are pumping more oil than ever. Natural gas is suddenly no longer an earth-warming pollutant but welcomed in vast abundance.
Left unmentioned is the cause of this unexpected energy bounty: The economic stagnation between 2009 and 2012 has curbed energy demand, while private entrepreneurs have used new fracking and horizontal-drilling technology on largely private lands to revolutionize the production of fossil fuels. Again, Obama seems to take credit for things that occurred over his opposition — as if to say, “I knew you’d be glad I didn’t get my way.” In the fine tradition of American politics, the successes of others are Obama’s; Obama’s failures are the failures of others.
Both as a candidate and early in his term, Obama blasted all the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols as either unnecessary or illegal. Iraq was a “dumb” war, and he declared the surge a failure.
But as president, Obama expanded these intelligence measures, and used a beefed-up military to kill Osama bin Laden and go after al-Qaeda captains. He followed the Bush-Petraeus timetable of withdrawal in Iraq and praised our successful nation-building there.
One could almost infer that Obama is now happy that he did not fulfill his earlier promises to close Guantanamo, end renditions and tribunals, prune back the PATRIOT Act, and get out of Iraq by March 2009. George W. Bush is still to be blamed for the present stagnating economy, as he is never to be praised for crafting the security measures vital for our current successes.
This year, Obama will run not so much on what he really did in 2009 and 2010, but more on what he wanted to do, but was stopped from doing, in 2011 and 2012. The president will tell his base that he really wished to go green in a big way, while telling Middle America that lots of oilmen went ahead on their own to find new gas and oil. For his liberal supporters, Obama really did want to end the anti-terrorism protocols, and for the rest of America he really did find those same protocols necessary to kill Islamic terrorists.
The message is clear: If voters do not see or hear the new un-Obama too often, if his left-wing legislative agenda is sidelined, and if the private sector can ignore him, then voters may still sort of like the idea of him back as president.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom. © 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.