The contradictions at the heart of the Obama presidency are finally out in the open. As a result, a man who came into office hellbent on restoring faith in government is on the verge of inspiring a libertarian revival.
There have always been (at least) two Barack Obamas. There is the man who claims to be a nonideological problem-solver, keen on working with anybody to fix things. And there is The One: the partisan, left-leaning progressive-redeemer.
As E.J. Dionne, a columnist who can usually be counted on to make the case for Obama better than Obama can, recently wrote, the president "has been a master, as good politicians are, at presenting different sides of himself to different constituencies. In 2008, he was the man who would bring us together by overcoming the deep mistrust between red and blue America and the champion of progressive change, the liberal answer to
The dilemma for Obama is that neither is panning out because both incarnations rely on trust. The president never had much trust among Republicans, and he lost what he had when he opted to steamroll the stimulus and, later,
Of course, that's not how most Democrats have seen things. They've seen the last five years as a tale of tea-party-fueled madness and racism. The conviction that conservatives are crazy, stupid and/or bigoted in their opposition to Obama is what has allowed the two Obamas to exist side by side. Both iterations could blame the Republicans for any shortcomings or failures.
Then came the
Cue the Justice Department, which deployed the
And then the floodgates opened. The
The IRS scandal is a cancer because if you can't trust Obama to keep that agency from being politicized, you can't trust him to keep anything immune from politics — including healthcare and, more relevant, the
I have some sympathy for Obama in that his support of these vast data-mining programs might be a sign that he has matured in office. He naively denounced the "false choice" of compromising our ideals for the sake of security in his 2009 inaugural speech. Now he's touting such trade-offs as essential.
Or it could be that, like so many presidents before him, Obama thinks there's nothing wrong with executive power when he's the executive. Either way, the NSA story undermines trust in both Obamas.
In late May, the president announced in a speech that the war on terror was essentially over. In early June, he's defending a data-mining operation even Rep.
The idealist wants credit for ending the war, while the alleged pragmatist wants to keep a surveillance apparatus that has no justification if the war on terror is truly over. Maybe he's right on the merits. The problem is that fewer and fewer people are willing to take his word for it.