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The Ironic Presidency



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One of the many paradoxes of the Obama administration is how its advocacy of various -isms and -ologies tended to discredit them. Similarly, Obama enchanted the media to such a degree that it suspended judgment, which has brought journalists all sorts of embarrassment. When columnists write that they were duped, or politicos call for Obama to step aside for Hillary, or when a once-tingling Chris Matthews unloads on the president, one senses the anger of betrayal, of being seen as naive and even sort of foolish.

After Obama, most won’t bother much about what Keynesian economics really was, only that it led to borrowing over $4 trillion in less than three years, yielded all sorts of questionable big spending, and saw unemployment and other key indicators get worse. I don’t think even its administration architects — Austin Goolsbee, Larry Summers, Peter Orszag, Christina Romer — would now say they were Keynesians, despite their role in the 2009–10 Obama budget strategies.

Before Obama, Americans granted that wind, solar, and “green” jobs might incrementally become popular as technological innovation and the rising price of oil made them more competitive. But after Obama, “alternative energy” has, for good or evil, gone the way of “investments” and “stimulus,” especially as stories proliferated of poorly maintained or junked subsidized wind mills, bankrupt solar companies, and profit-minded green opportunists like James Hansen or Al Gore. Somehow the Obama administration turned the solar industry into Enron in the popular imagination.

Obama did the same sort of thing with so-called radical civil libertarians, who used to rail and even go to court against the Bush administration’s antiterrorism protocols — in lockstep with state legislator, law-school lecturer, senator, and presidential candidate Barack Obama. But after his flips on Guantanamo, tribunals, renditions, Predators, preventive detention, etc., what are they now to say? Does someone like Harold Koh simply say that was then, out of power, and this is now, in power?

The one constant here is Obama’s false pitch in 2008 that everything that came before his hope-and-change elixir was simply awful and everything after would be wonderful, from a cooling planet to falling seas — all delivered in teleprompted mellifluousness with a new post-racial cool. In 2008, for a conservative critic to suggest that the former Chicago community organizer was a glib rookie senator — without any experience in national politics, clueless about the private sector, with no prior record of industry or inspired legislation, and with a mostly unknown and poorly researched past — was to earn the charge of racism; in 2011, for a liberal to do the same, I guess, will be seen as sober and judicious bipartisan reflection.



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