By J.R. Dunn
Make no mistake: that's what happened over the past weekend. We have been through a mercilessly condensed version of a presidential campaign, lasting only hours, in which Barack Obama ran against his own image, demonstrated himself unworthy of office, and threw away any chance of victory in next year's contest.
To start with, we have his failure to deal with the budget in due time, thus allowing the crisis to build up in the first place. Then we have his walking out of the negotiations after he himself tried to pull a fast one (adding $500 billion -- that's a half-trillion, folks -- in taxes at the last minute). The threats against grandma's checks. His petulant and adolescent Friday press conference. His prolonged weekend sulk, leaving the separate houses of Congress to work their way through the crisis with no input from the White House whatsoever. His wordless rejection of a better deal than he had coming. The attempt to crash the Asian markets by personal decree. And finally the speech which was intended to rally the country behind his vision but wound up as a prolonged plea for Congress and the Tea Parties to stop picking on him.
How can this be described as anything else but a complete dereliction of his duty as chief executive of this country? Put aside all else that has occurred over the past two years; last weekend we saw the utter disintegration of a president. It cannot be overlooked, and it will not be forgotten.
What Obama wanted was a personal triumph, a vindication of his status as the American Augustus. A clear road to 2012 with no more budgetary debates and crises. The utter humiliation of the GOP, which would be forced to swallow new taxes, leaving them with one less issue next year. An under-the-table legitimization of his "policies" (I think that's the word I'm groping for), which could then be touted as successes despite the damage they have left behind. The reestablishment of Barack Obama as a political demigod. And before we overlook it, another few hundred billion to toss to his political allies.
What has he got? He's got as clear a defeat as any president has ever suffered. A party in total disarray. A set of embarrassed and angry subordinates. An economic policy that's going down for the third time. A GOP heading into 2012 with a momentum comparable to that of Patton tearing into the Palatinate. And one final thing: the long-overdue public revelation of a fatally flawed and inadequate personality.
This is where voting "present" brings you at last. He's tried this before, on the occasion of the September 15 financial crash, right in the middle of the 2008 campaign. It will be recalled that John McCain put his campaign on hold and headed for Washington to do what was necessary. Whatever might be thought of McCain, and however good or poor his reasons at the time, it was the act of a man to whom duty was more important than career. And Obama? Well, Obama always comes first, doesn't he? He just turned his back and kept on going. He knew he couldn't lose, whichever way things broke.
He obviously thought the same thing now. But times have changed. People have seen Barack Obama, have taken in his oddities, his narcissism, his ignorance, his lack of quality. They are unwilling to cut him any more slack. They know what a president looks like, good or bad, popular or not, and they no longer see a president in Barack Obama. Is it possible to imagine Reagan, FDR, Truman, or either of the Bushes pulling the kind of tricks that Obama has in recent days?
A president does certain things and acts in certain ways. He is the modern extension, the most advanced version, of the headman, the tribal chief, and much of his role is played on the most primitive of levels. He must take the punishment the gods mete out and make whatever sacrifices they demand on behalf of his people. Consider FDR rolling unceasingly toward his death with the destruction of the Axis the sole thought in his mind. Consider Eisenhower overcoming heart attacks (in an era where heart attacks were far more deadly than today) in order to continue serving. Consider Reagan smiling with an assassin's bullet in his chest. Consider George W. Bush prevailing in the face of hatred, invective, and threats that would have broken most other men. And then reverse the question: can anyone picture Barack Obama doing the same?
His hollowness can no longer be ignored. It has become his major feature. The Obama persona has always been pure mythology, with next to nothing holding it together. It has been deteriorating for some time, and that process reached a critical point this week. Now it will accelerate, with the pieces falling off in ever-larger chunks. He has lost the respect of his opponents. He is losing the respect of his own party. Official Washington will follow. The country as a whole will grow angry with the anger of the betrayed. All that will remain will be the true believers. A new myth will take shape: that of Obama the victim, hero of the people and onetime messiah, ambushed and pulled down by vicious and dishonorable enemies. If it weren't for Boehner, prince of evil... If it weren't for the GOP... If it weren't for the Koch brothers and all their cash...
That new myth will be solid, irrefutable, and well-made. It will have to be. If the record is any indication, it's the only thing they will have for quite some time to come.