President Obama, I have frequently argued, has been fabulous for the conservative movement. He spurred the creation of the tea party. He helped the GOP win the House majority in 2010 and make big gains in the Senate. His Obamacare has helped revive the Commerce Clause and given a boost to conservative jurisprudence. His refusal to support human rights has caused a bipartisan revulsion and reminded us that foreign policy must be girded by American values. He’s sent independents running into the GOP’s arms. He’s forced conservatives to think hard and express eloquently principles of religious liberty, limited government, free markets and Constitutional democracy.
Obama also has wreaked havoc in the the Democratic Party. He’s firmly affixed the “tax and spend” label to it after Bill Clinton declared that the era of big government was over. He’s made Clinton into a pitch man for Mitt Romney. His rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline has split the party. His refusal to adopt the Simpson-Bowles commission’s recommendations has turned Democrats into reactionaries, defending the status quo on entitlements. He’s alienated Jewish voters. He’s re-McGovernized the party, which now stands for appeasing despotic powers, turning on allies and slashing defense spending.
As Ross Douthat wrote, “House Republicans have spent the past two years taking tough votes on entitlement reform, preparing themselves for an ambitious offensive should 2012 deliver the opportunity to cast those same votes and have them count. The Senate Democrats, on the other hand, have failed to even pass a budget: There is no Democratic equivalent of Paul Ryan’s fiscal blueprint, no Democratic plan to swallow hard and raise middle class taxes the way Republicans look poised to swallow hard and overhaul Medicare. Indeed, there’s no liberal agenda to speak of at the moment, beyond a resounding ‘No!’ to whatever conservatism intends to do.”
Not even Jimmy Carter did this much, I would suggest, to jerk his party to the left and hobble its electoral prospects. No wonder Clinton is on a rampage.
Rather than spin endless excuses and blame it all on money, liberal elites might want to reconsider tying themselves too tightly to Obama’s mast. They have already become quite whiny and sacrificed a good deal of intellectual rigor in trying to defend every misstep as brilliant and every loss as a win.
They should take a page from the conservative playbook from the second Bush term. Then, conservatives stuck by their principles, criticized him where appropriate and maintained their integrity. That was a wise choice. Presidents, especially inept ones, come and go, but parties, journalists and political movements need to endure more than four years.