John Podhoretz

John Podhoretz writes Its Time to Get Serious in Commentary, April 2013


The common idea during his first term—peddled by, among others, Mitt Romney as he sought a way to criticize the president that would not offend too many people—that Obama “is a nice guy but in over his head” is entirely backward. Barack Obama almost certainly isn’t a nice guy (even his admiring biographers are consistent in describing his friendlessness and icy hauteur).

And you should only be in over your head so much. After a single statewide election, Obama has now won absolute majorities in two successive national tallies with a combined vote total of 135 million. He has much of the media in his pocket; he has his party in his thrall; he escapes responsibility for failures that would sink other politicians; he muscled the most important piece of legislation in decades into law; and with a 20 percent increase in federal spending levels, he has ended the political age in which a Democrat would say “the era of big government is over” (Bill Clinton, 1996). That isn’t luck. It’s skill. Rare skill. Political genius of a kind.

Meanwhile, that vaunted private-sector genius Mitt Romney proved to be so inept as the chief executive of his own campaign that his polling was based on faulty assumptions that could easily have been corrected, his get-out-the-vote machine failed because it had never been tested, and his Facebook page crashed. (Not to kick a fellow when he’s down, but this would seem to give the lie to the idea, voiced frequently in the wake of his defeat, that Romney would have been a good president because he is so competent a manager.)

The notion that Obama is a dangerous extremist helps him, because it makes him seem reasonable and his critics foolish. It also helps those who peddle it, because it makes them notorious and helps them sell their wares. But it has done perhaps irreparable harm to the central conservative cause of the present moment—making the case that Obama’s social-democratic statism is setting the United States on a course for disaster and that his anti-exceptionalist foreign policy is setting the world on a course for nihilistic chaos. Those are serious arguments, befitting a serious antagonist. They may not sell gold coins as quickly and as well as excessive alarmism, but they have the inestimable advantage of being true..


I count myself as one of many who underestimated the president’s success.  I thought his first election was a fluke- the result of war fatigue,  inept opposition, and an economic collapse time perfectly to propel him in to office before we has the vision of hindsight to fully understand it.

But his re-election AFTER the imposition of unpopular policies and with the economy still in stagnation merits more serious thought.  The political prowess of the president and his Democratic machine and the continuing ineptitude of yet another candidate requires more than just a rethinking of the GOP.  It is lethal to underestimate your opponent.