KRAUTHAMMER SEES OBAMA ‘BACK WITH A VENGEANCE’…. Earlier this month, Charles Krauthammer wrote a couple of columns on the shift in the White House’s fortunes. The conservative columnist raised major doubts about the tax deal, for example, not because it was a bad idea, but because President Obama, as Krauthammer sees it, “pulled off … the swindle of the year.”
A week later, Krauthammer, who vehemently opposes the president and his agenda, added, “Obama is back” and “conservative gloaters were simply fooled.” The columnist went so far as to describe this president as another “comeback kid.”
Today, Krauthammer took another step, marveling at Obama’s December hat trick.
Riding the lamest of ducks, President Obama just won the Triple Crown. He fulfilled (1) his most important economic priority, passage of Stimulus II, a.k.a. the tax cut deal (the perfect pre-re-election fiscal sugar high – the piper gets paid in 2013 and beyond); (2) his most important social policy objective, repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”; and (3) his most cherished (achievable) foreign policy goal, ratification of the New START treaty with Russia.
Politically, these are all synergistic. The bipartisan nature of the tax deal instantly repositioned Obama back to the center. And just when conventional wisdom decided the deal had caused irreparable alienation from his liberal base, Obama almost immediately won it back — by delivering one of the gay rights movement’s most elusive and coveted breakthroughs.
The symbolism of the don’t ask, don’t tell repeal cannot be underestimated. It’s not just that for the civil rights community, it represents a long-awaited extension of the historic arc — first blacks, then women, now gays. It was also Obama decisively transcending the triangulated trimming of Bill Clinton, who instituted don’t ask, don’t tell in the first place. Even more subtly and understatedly, the repeal represents the taming of the most conservative of the nation’s institutions, the military, by a movement historically among the most avant-garde. Whatever your views, that is a cultural landmark.
Then came START, which was important for Obama not just because of the dearth of foreign policy achievements these past two years but because treaties, especially grand-sounding treaties on strategic arms, carry the aura of presidential authority and diplomatic mastery.
To be sure, the column was filled with misguided, Krauthammer-like assessments. The columnist considers New START “damaging,” which strikes me as deeply silly. But he nevertheless makes the same point that Adam Serwer, Fred Kaplan, and I made the other day: “Republican opposition … garnered the treaty more attention than it would have otherwise and thus gave Obama a larger PR victory.”
Nevertheless, given the developments of December, Krauthammer concludes, “Obama came back with a vengeance. His string of lame-duck successes is a singular political achievement. Because of it, the epic battles of the 112th Congress begin on what would have seemed impossible just one month ago — a level playing field.”
If this helps capture the conventional wisdom in D.C., and shapes perceptions accordingly, the White House has to feel like it’s entering 2011 right where it wants to be.