I have not been immune to feeling frustrated and depressed by the sheer power and energy of the Fox News/Drudge/Breitbart media onslaught against anything to do with Obama. As in the campaign, I've longed in my gut for the administration to lash back with as much vehemence as Fox lashes forward. I've also winced when the Obamaites have appeared totally craven in responding to the context-free narrative many on the denialist, angry right have been pushing. (But at least Vilsack apologized which makes him much more of a man than Breitbart.)
But I've learned over time to respect the canniness of this president's restraint. His gift is patience and perseverance and allowing his enemies to destroy themselves. And I suspect this Breitbart racial smear may be a moment when, once again, you see how Obama outsmarts his opponents. I mean: when you examine it, you see that a woman who actually exemplifies honesty about race and overcomes prejudice was cynically and recklessly used to create a false notion that this administration is racist toward whites, an old and disgusting canard devised by the Becks and Hannitys and Limbaughs in the tradition of Wallace and Atwater and McCarthy.
But - and here's the thing - to the credit of many on the right (and, of course, good old Shep Smith of Fox News), this episode has led to the first real rift in the lock-step of the right-wing noise machine. I know this was so egregious a smear it was indefensible. And I know, as David Frum has noted, that many conservatives tried to deflect blame onto Obama, and the media - led by the cynic Lloyd Grove - has joined the pack. But nonetheless, many on the right took Breitbart on, from NRO outward. This great injustice has, to anyone with a fair mind, deeply damaged Fox News, deeply discredited the Breitbart noise machine, and will render every new soundbite and video issued by FNC more suspect.
It was, in other words, an over-reach from hubris. And I suspect that this over-reach is not just in the rightwing media but in what's left of conservative political activism.
I do not believe, for example, that the blatant religious bigotry shown by Palin and Gingrich on the Cordoba complex near Ground Zero will wear well with Americans. George W. Bush rightly insisted in distinguishing all Muslims from the Jihadist mass murderers who claim to represent them. That distinction - a core element of basic fairness - is vital not just for domestic peace but for success in defanging Jihadist nihilism. And respecting the overwhelming majority of American Muslims who seek only to worship their God in a land dedicated to religious liberty is something, I believe, that will outlast the cheap demagoguery of the current far right that has captured the GOP.
The public may be frustrated by the lack of progress in the economy, and who can blame them? But they are still looking for solutions more than someone to blame. And most are fair enough to understand that Obama has no magic wand, that these problems are bone-deep, and that he has passed actual, substantive legislation that fulfilled clear campaign pledges in an election he won handily. Yes, they are queasy about government growth. So am I. But only government can rescue a free-market capitalist system that destroyed itself - and millions of jobs; deep recessions require short-term fiscal boosts; the health insurance reform was moderate and centrist and you have to have a heart of stone to sit back and watch so many suffer with such waste and cruelty; and there is a steadiness in Obama that no one should under-estimate. Here we have a black president presiding over 10 percent unemployment and his ratings, in a deeply polarized polity, are still above Reagan's at this juncture in a similar long-term economic crisis.
He avoided a second Great Depression. The bank bailout, however noxious, worked. GM may soon be returning a profit to the government. Health insurance reform will stick and, with careful oversight, could begin to curtail runaway healthcare costs. Financial re-regulation just passed. Two new Supreme Court Justices are in place after failed attempts at culture war demagoguery. Crime - amazingly - has not jumped with the recession. America is no longer despised abroad the way it was; torture has been ended; relations with Russia have improved immensely; Iran's regime is more diplomatically and economically isolated than in its entire history; even the Greater Israel chorus has been challenged. Moreover, if the House goes Republican this fall, it renders a second Obama term as likely as Clinton's became (how many Independents would want to hand over the government to Palin and the current GOP in Congress?). On the economy, the employment outlook remains bleak - but not desperate if you look at the long run:
The Fed expects the economy to grow this year by 3 to 3.5 percent, picking up only slightly, to 3.5 to 4.5 percent, in 2011 and 2012. The unemployment rate is projected to drop to 7 to 7.5 percent by the end of 2012 still far higher than the 5 to 5.3 percent that the Fed now considers to be full employment.
After the scale of the recession, this could be a lot worse. The whole pattern really does remind me of Reagan. And against this, what do the Republicans have to offer? They want to slash long-term spending, but Obama will have the initiative on this after the elections with his debt commission. Will they really obstruct debt reduction because any reasonable deal will need to increase revenues? Do they really want another war, this time with Iran? Are they really going to run on more commitment to Afghanistan? How much will they propose in slashing Medicare and social security? Do they have anything substantive to propose on ending our addiction to carbon energy?
I think the GOP has already doomed itself. I may be wrong and may be misreading an ornery public and the power of Palin-style demagoguery. But I think they have committed the same error in Obama's time in office as they did when he was running. They have mistaken tactics for strategy.
(Photo: US President Barack Obama pauses while speaking before signing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC, July 21, 2010. By Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.)