Breaking the Fever

Ryan Lizza seems to have decided to publish the first big thumb-sucker on Barack Obama’s hypothetical second term, and there’s some interesting (if questionably relevant) material about previous presidential second acts. But for the moment, what I found striking is Obama’s frequent references to the possibility that a 2012 defeat might change the Republican Party from its current direction of hyper-polarization, 1964-style reactionary messianism, and paranoia. The term he uses with Lizza (as elsewhere) is that “the fever may break.”

While the clinical term is entirely appropriate, I do wonder if Obama really believes it. After all, the current “fever” was the direct product of two consecutive landslide Republican defeats in 2006 and 2008. It was, to put it mildly, counter-intuitive for the entire GOP to conclude that its defeats were the result of its movement-conservative 43d president “betraying his conservative principles,’ particularly since his own second-term plunge in popularity closely followed two Bush administration initiatives–the stubborn pursuit of the Iraq War, and his aborted Social Security privatization gambit–that conservatives strongly supported, and another incident (W.’s languid reaction to Katrina) that reflected their “individual responsibility” attitude towards Americans-particularly poor and minority Americans–in misfortune.

So how would Republicans react to, say, a narrow Obama win? Blame it on the RINO Romney? Discover another “voter fraud”-driven “stolen election?” Conclude their congressional leaders were too friendly to the secular-socialist president? The very fact that we can legitimately ask these questions is a pretty good indication it’s not so clear the fever would in fact break.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.