I haven’t been following the Republican primaries all that closely–partly because it’s too depressing, but also in part because I’ve been convinced virtually from the get-go that Mitt Romney will ultimately be the nominee. Nevertheless, what’s apparent even to the casual observer is that the G.O.P. intends to rerun the playbook they used in the 2008 election by attempting to brand Barack Obama as fundamentally un-American.
Romney thinks Obama wants to turn America into a “European-style welfare state”; Newt Gingrich is convinced (or wants to convince us) that the president is a “Saul Alinsky radical.” Obama, we’re told, intends to preside over the United States’ “decline” into a second-tier power, relinquishing our status as the global hegemon.
If this was unconvincing as an attack on candidate Obama in 2008–and the voters seemed to agree that it was–how much less convincing is it against President Obama in 2012? After all, the Obama Administration’s first term has, if anything, confirmed the hopes (or suspicions) of those of us who always saw Obama as essentially a center-left pragmatist, if an unusually charismatic and eloquent one. From the economics of “austerity-lite” to the killing of Osama bin Laden and the escalation of the war in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, Obama has rarely strayed from the centrist playbook, for better or worse (and in my view it’s been a little bit of both).
I guess what I find so dispiriting about this is that it’s virtually impossible to have a good-faith debate about the problems facing the country when one party is attacking what amounts to a fantasy version of the current occupant of the Oval Office. Moreover, when the president is perpetually under the burden to prove that he’s not a “radical” or “socialist,” genuinely liberal or progressive ideas become that much more marginalized. Come to think of it, maybe that’s the point.