The Wages of Muscular Liberalism

My (last) column in the Times, yesterday, looked at the shift in the Republican approach on Obama, how that shift came about, and it's meaning for liberals, and the presidency itself:

"There is in Obama something of the Democratic candidate for president in the 1950s, Adlai Stevenson," wrote Dick Morris in 2008. Lest you miss what that "something" was, Morris's column was titled "Obama's Weakness Is Weakness." National Review asserted that "Real Men Vote for McCain" and claimed that Obama "projects weakness" of the sort that was "an enticement to bad guys around the world." In 2008 McCain asserted: "Senator Obama says that I'm running for Bush's third term. It seems to me he's running for Jimmy Carter's second." Early in Obama's presidency, Coulter described Obama's approach to Iran as "weak-kneed" and denounced him as a "scaredy-cat." Surely such a man would see your all-American daughter sold to Ayman al-Zawahri and the Constitution replaced by Shariah law. 

But a funny thing happened on the way to 2012. As it turns out, the ingesting of arugula in no way interferes with one's ability to have Osama bin Laden shot. Mitt Romney may attack Obama for "apologizing for America" overseas. But the audience for that charge is thin. In polls, Obama consistently beats Romney on national security. A recent Ipsos/Reuters poll found Obama leading Romney on the issue 47 to 38 percent and the campaign against terrorism 50 to 35 percent.

Among the ranks of bullies, the only fair fight is the one that ends with them laughing and kicking sand. And so, no longer able to portray Obama as weak, the authors of Willie Horton, swift-boating and modern day poll-taxing have been reduced to other tactics -- among them wildly yelping, "Please, Mr. President, nothing to the face."

Arugula partisan that I am, I must admit to some glee here. Watching Obama campaign is like watching an irradiated Peter Parker spar with Flash Thompson. It is deceptively easy, for instance, to see Harry Reid's smearing of Romney not as the unsubstantiated, unevidenced ambush that it is, but as revenge.

This continues an ongoing debate on this blog, and among the Horde. One regret -- invoking Dick Cheney at the end, a man of such a malevolent force that he overwhelms any point I was trying to make.


As a small aside, I will say that people who write columns for the Times catch a lot from people like me. That will continue. But doing this now for a second summer, I have to say it is extraordinarily difficult to come up with something smart to say, say it exactly right, and make it sound good in 800 words. I can't really imagine having to do that twice a week. I just don't have enough ideas or, frankly, the skills. It is a really hard job. I actually think the entire form could use some fresh thinking.
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

More in Politics

From This Author

Just In