Conservatives will miss Obama

Note: I am writing this quickly on my phone, so apologises for spelling and grammar errors and the lack of citations

I saw the above on my Facebook feed this morning from the most important right-leaning magazine in America. And it made me realise that many conservatives have no idea how lucky they have been to have President Obama as an opponent.

Their opposition to him has been tenacious and unprecedented. Virtually every initiative of Obama’s presidency has been opposed by every single Republican congressman and Senator. By contrast, many of the key parts of President George W. Bush’s agenda – the Iraq War, the Patriot Act and No Child Left Behind – were backed by a clear majority of congressional Democrats. And conservative opposition went beyond policy. Polls suggested that around half of Republican voters – one of whom is now President – believed the racially tinged concoction that Obama was not born in America and therefore inelligible for the office he held.

The ferocity of this fightback might lead one to imagine that it was directed against a uniquely implacable and unrelenting foe. In fact, Obama’s whole political identity was built on the possibility of finding common ground with opponents. The speech to the 2004 Democratic convention that propelled him to national prominence proclaimed that “there are no red states and blue states, there is only the United States“.

That wasn’t mere rhetoric. He appointed multiple Republicans to his administration including not one but two Secretaries of Defence. His signature healthcare policy was borrowed from Mitt Romney’s tenure as a governor, who borrowed it from right-leaning think tanks trying to devising a conservative alternative to single payer. To the horror of many of his liberal supporters, he not only continued but intensified Bush’s policies on drone strokes and mass surveillance. He spoke in defence of free speech on campuses and about the dangers of political correctness. And he ensured that the African-American president was not a radical like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton but a man who emphasised his Americaness over his blackness.
They are unlikely to be so lucky again. The Republicans are remaking the Democrats in their image. The success of Sanders insurgency has demonstrated that the Democratic Party is on its way to becoming as liberal as the Republicans are conservative. The Sanders insurgency was an explicit rejection of Obama’s compromises: notably in the conviction that the Affordable Care Act was inadequate and that only single payer would do. That was predictable: what is the point of trying to compromise with a movement that has spent 8 years being so uncompromising. The strength of conservative opposition to Obama has apparently proved him wrong that there are no Red and Blue Americas. Democrats now operate in a deeply divided political system where their only way to win is take all without compromise. And the changing demographics of America may well enable them to do just that. It thus may come to be that in the decades to come, Republicans look back on Obama as the good kind of Democrat president.

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