For their part, the media manage to be consistently unfair to the former Alaska governor - gossipy and hostile in their reportage, hysterical and condescending in their commentary - even as they follow her every move with a fascination bordering on obsession. (MSNBC, in particular, should just change its name to "Palin 24/7" and get it over with.)
Times reporter Matt Bai did his best to prove Douthat right in his Wednesday "Political Scene" column, taking on Palin in the "Obama Benefits In Having Palin As His Foil " as suffering from "ideological rigidity" and "divisiveness," unwittingly enabling Obama to be "more like the post-partisan grownup he always intended to be." Where Bai gained this insight into Obama's innermost thoughts of mature moderation is left unrevealed.
Bai forwarded findings from an ABC News/Washington Post poll showing most respondents favored the president's handling of the Tucson tragedy and disliked Palin's response, which isn't surprising when comparing a sitting president to an opposing politician.
All of which suggests that the events of the past 10 days have complicated things for Republicans who are intent on getting back to business this week, starting with a push to repeal the new health care law. Speaker John A. Boehner and his lieutenants are clearly trying to learn the lessons of the last Republican takeover, in 1995. They are determined to focus on their substantive disagreements with Mr. Obama, presenting a reasoned alternative to his agenda rather than getting dragged into the kind of personal attacks that ultimately worked against the party back then.You can follow Times Watch on Twitter .
Think of it this way: American voters have for decades now sent their presidents to Washington in hopes of delivering some mortal blow to the status quo. Once in office, it's hard for any president to fully embody the reform that a restive electorate may have hoped for. But it's considerably easier if you can contrast yourself with an adversary who embodies the kind of outdated politics, ideological rigidity or divisiveness that repelled those voters in the first place.
And so President Ronald Reagan benefited immensely from his cordial back-and-forth with Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr., who was the very picture of an old-time, cigar-chomping liberal pol. Bill Clinton regained his footing, after disastrous midterm elections in 1994, largely thanks to the contrast with Speaker Newt Gingrich, who came off as petulant and mean-spirited....
Next year, when Republicans settle on a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama will have an adversary chosen for him. But for now, he could clearly do worse than to have Ms. Palin overshadow the party's more predictable leaders in Congress. With every controversial tweet or video, Ms. Palin makes Mr. Obama, who has often struggled to project the regality of the office, seem more like the post-partisan grownup he always intended to be.