Republicans have almost totally abandoned their fear campaign against the embattled Barack Obama. Their street philosophers and Tea Party freedom-fighters are losing their momentum. Every day, we hear less about the constitution and more and more about how to be a boss.
Republican strategists and fundraisers are not simply running away from the shrillest of the Republican candidates for president. Rather, they’re looking eagerly for a demonstrably muscular candidate who can run against a weak president—a president every bit as American and as unforgivably ineffectual as Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.
Michael Goodwin wrote this in the New York Post:
“His is a vision best described as pragmatic idealism. He is about taking direct and forceful action without ever losing sight of the big picture.
“As he said in his stirring speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, “The rule for effective government is simple: When you see a problem, you fix it.”
“Later, he added, “You can’t wait for someone else to do it when you sit in the Oval Office.”
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Without the reference to the Reagan Library, this encomium to Governor Chris Christie could have been written by several equally shrewd columnists in the New York Times, in 2008, about Barack Obama.
Obama, who also talks to himself as well as the lowest common denominator, could have easily said every bit of it—only adding that a spirit of bipartisanship in Congress will be required as well.
Today, Obama doesn’t scare anyone—in America. But he isn’t called a “pragmatic idealist” because Republicans won’t let him get anything big done.
Here’s the cruel beauty of a Christie candidacy: with a non-ideological tough guy as the star candidate for the presidential nomination, Republicans in Congress, in the shadows, can continue to block Obama’s domestic initiatives. (Conversely, without the distracting excitement of Christie, every week of paralysis in Congress further highlights Republican legislators as obstructionists.)
Nevertheless, whatever the New Jersey governor does, the Democrats are left with a dangerous problem: Americans are desperate for effective leadership, but they see that an eminently level-headed Democrat can’t get much done.
Probably millions of independent voters who support Obama’s program today would drop him now for another so-called effective president like Ronald Reagan.
He can’t win and stay the same. Obama’s leadership potential can’t be re-imagined without a clear legislative win on jobs and the economy this fall or without, shall we say, a rather vicious and winning campaign against the re-election of an obstructionist Republican Congress next fall.
It can be argued that the capacity of the two-party system to express what a majority of Americans want is at stake. The constitution doesn’t insist that only center-right presidents can lead. Nevertheless, a sane case can be made that that’s exactly what a decisive faction in the US Congress believes.
Remember, even president George Bush’s economic emergency legislation was torpedoed by the same faction (then without a brand name) when the financial system nearly collapsed in September 2008.
There is a pattern of recklessness that only the voters can break. There are many things Democrats may not understand about American exceptionalism. However, they alone, as a national party in Washington, still seem to know when to cooperate with a pragmatic president—Republican or Democrat—when the nation’s economy is in peril.