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He Has Met the Enemy, and They Are Him

President Obama, who during the heat of the 2010 midterm election referred to Republicans as “enemies,” has now decided to refine things a bit. The car-in-the-ditch analogy is out; the-GOP-as-hostage-takers is in.

As John mentioned, in Obama’s press conference earlier today the president, in discussing the tax cut deal he has negotiated with Republicans, said, “It’s tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers unless the hostage gets harmed. … In this case, the hostage was the American people, and I was not willing to see them get harmed.”

Mr. Obama has mastered the ability to look both unprincipled and graceless at the same time. There is also a touch of bipolarity in this administration that is doing a fair amount of damage to it.

In the Washington Post this morning, under the headline “The president extends an olive branch to the GOP,” we read this:

Although his liberal supporters are furious about the decision, President Obama’s willingness to extend all of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts is part of what White House officials say is a deliberate strategy: to demonstrate his ability to compromise with Republicans and portray the president as the last reasonable man in a sharply partisan Washington. The move is based on a political calculation, drawn from his party’s midterm defeat, that places a premium on winning back independent voters.

It’s not clear to me how referring to a party that just smashed your own in an epic midterm election as “hostage takers” is going to help Mr. Obama either win back independents or appear as “the last reasonable man in a sharply partisan Washington.”

It appears to me that Obama is a man of tremendous internal contradictions. He fancies himself as a post-partisan, post-ideological figure who alone can elevate public discourse. He obviously took great pride in presenting himself as America’s Socrates during the presidential campaign.

At the same time, Mr. Obama is a man of unusual arrogance who, if things don’t go his way, becomes prickly. He lashes out. And he begins to feel sorry for himself. Notoriously thin-skinned and accustomed to worshipful treatment by those around him (including the press), Obama is now clearly disquieted.

On some deep level, Obama must understand that, at this moment at least, his presidency is coming apart. It’s not at all clear to me that he’s particularly well equipped to deal with the shifting fortunes, the hardships, and the battering that a president must endure. Difficult circumstances seem to be bringing out his worst qualities rather than his best. And that may be what was on display this afternoon.



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