Bill Keller, who earlier this month stepped down as Times executive editor, wrote a column for Monday, September 19, 2011 (32 months into Barack Obama's presidency, or two-thirds of his term), blaming George W. Bush and 'Republican resistance amounting to sabotage' for Obama's political decline.
The decline in Obama's political fortunes, the Great Disappointment, can be attributed to four main factors: the intractable legacy bequeathed by George W. Bush; Republican resistance amounting to sabotage; the unrealistic expectations and inevitable disenchantment of some of the president's supporters; and, to be sure, the man himself.
Obama inherited a country in such distress that his Inaugural Address alluded to George Washington at Valley Forge, marking 'this winter of our hardship.' Unfunded wars, supply-side deficits, twin housing and banking crises enabled by an orgy of regulatory permissiveness - that was the legacy Obama assumed. In our political culture if you inherit a problem and don't fix it, you own it. So at some point it became the popular wisdom that Iraq and Afghanistan were 'Obama's wars,' and that the recession had become 'Obama's economy.' Given the systemic burden Bush left for his successor, that judgment seems to me to be less about fair play than about short memories. But this is what passes for accountability in our system. And the Republicans have been relentlessly effective at rebranding every failing of the Bush administration as Obama's fault. The historical truth, therefore, is no longer a viable political shelter for the Obama presidency. At best we can hope it serves as a caution against those who preach a return to the indiscriminate tax cuts and regulatory free-for-all that helped produce our lingering mess in the first place.
Another toxic legacy of the Bush years is an angry conservative populism, in which government is viewed as tyranny and compromise as apostasy. The Tea Party faction has captured not only the Republican primary process, but to a large extent the national conversation and the legislative machinery. In Congress the anger is pandered to by Republicans who should know better, since their nihilism discredits not only the president they have cynically set out to make a failure, but their own institution. Voters are frustrated by this - Congress has the approval rating of bedbugs - but it remains to be seen whether the electorate will punish the real culprits or simply reward the candidates who run against that bogeyman, 'Washington.'
As John Podhoretz of Commentary tweeted Monday morning: 'Shorter Bill Keller: Obama's troubles are Bush's fault. So that means Bush passed both the stimulus and Obamacare!'
After casting his gimlet eye over the Republican field, in what he called "a contest for the Barry Goldwater Chair in States' Rights," Keller concluded:
So let's get real. Yes, Obama could do better. But we could do a lot worse.