Politics & Policy

Obama Is Down, but Not Out

Conservatives must take control of the narrative.

New Black Panthers. Fast and Furious. NSA domestic spying. Spying even on reporters. Solyndra. Pigford-settlement fraud. Contempt of court concerning offshore drilling. IRS harassment of conservative groups. E-mail lawbreaking at the Environmental Protection Agency. All sorts of reversals, embarrassments, and scandals at the Department of Justice, including egregious trial misconduct. And, of course, the incompetence and cover-ups related to Benghazi.

Every time decent people think the scandals and embarrassments circling Barack Obama will sink this presidency, we look up and see Obama still there — chin jutting out, countenance haughty, voice dripping with disdain for conservatives — utterly unembarrassed, utterly undeterred from any assertion of power he thinks he can get away with, tradition and propriety and the Constitution be damned. The man has no shame, no self-doubt, not a shred of humility, no sense that anybody else has legitimate reason to question him or hold any other point of view.

And, of course, even if the establishment media tut-tuts a bit, its heart really isn’t in the job of holding Obama to account, so each apparent crisis is allowed to pass without any resolution or any real trimming of Obama’s sails.

So conservatives should not rest easy just because the travesties of Obamacare have become so manifest. Barack Obama is playing a very different game from that played by any top American politician in decades — and maybe ever. His overweening self-regard, combined with his radical aims, married to the media’s psychological investment in his success, makes it certain that he himself won’t feel constrained by political pressures that ordinarily would apply.

#ad#In fact, if he sees polls and political trends moving against him, seriously threatening a Democratic loss of the Senate, he is likely to get even bolder, trampling even more constitutional norms in a race to accumulate as much power as possible before a bicameral Republican majority can stop him. He’ll also ram through the Senate as many liberal judges as Harry Reid has time to process, and his agencies will further amp up their regulatory reigns of terror.

Worse — and truly dangerously — Obama will become more reckless in foreign policy, furthering his aims of rehabilitating longtime enemies such as Iran while ceding more power to United Nations subsidiaries and other international tribunals, the better to guard against future American hegemonic designs.

And all the while, he will be demonizing Republicans and conservatives, lying about the Right’s actions and motives while hoping to goad Republican leaders into errors or exploiting the growing fissures between tea partiers and the GOP “establishment.” His goal, as ever, is not just to achieve temporary political victories but to permanently break the back of American conservatism.

In all of this, Obama’s key thought will be to effect Saul Alinsky’s eighth rule for radicals: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep the opposition off balance. Attack from all sides, never letting the opponents catch their breath or regroup.

To study Obama is to understand these tendencies. That’s how it was predictable, the day after Obama was first elected, that the Left would find a way to finagle a filibuster-proof Senate majority in early 2009, eventually nuke the filibuster itself, work against all ballot-integrity measures, charge abortion protesters with civil-rights violations, drum up street demonstrations and civil unrest (the Occupy movement), and use the IRS to harass and audit conservative organizations.

That’s why it is so important, first, to not assume Obama is a political goner, and second, to take control of the narrative so that Obama won’t be able to get back on the offensive. In the short run, when one’s own side has been falling over its own feet, it makes sense to give Obama enough rope to keep hanging himself. But before too much time goes by, conservatives must start creating positive headlines for themselves, in order to keep Obama and his allies from resetting the agenda.

Digestible health-care solutions — something on the order of the Ponnuru-Levin proposal or Representative Steve Scalise’s American Health Care Reform Act — provide the most obvious way for those on the right to keep the initiative and stop Obama from successfully demonizing us. One way or another, conservatives must look caring, solutions-oriented, and constructive.

Otherwise, Obama will outlast and overcome even the Obamacare debacle, just as he outlasted all his other embarrassments and scandals with the help of his media friends. And if he overcomes Obamacare, he may well overcome us for keeps.

Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor of National Review and a senior fellow of the Center for Individual Freedom.

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