The wordsmith who gave us such nuanced disquisitions as “Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America” holding forth on civility must always be greeted with raucous laughter. But Coulter was actually variegating on a theme. On the same network, Senator John McCain accused the president of promising “hope and change” but actually running “the most negative, most unpleasant, most disgraceful campaign that I have ever observed.”
Obama is “the most divisive, nasty, negative campaigner that this country’s ever seen,” the head of the Republican National Committee claimed, and the party’s presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney, assured his followers that Obama was “going to do everything in his power to make this the lowest, meanest negative campaign in history.”
For those of us who remember the attacks on Obama in 2008, this is a notable shift. Four years ago the book on Obama was not that he would fight dirty but that he would not fight at all. Before Obama became the Great Deceiver of Men, he was a pinot-noir-sipping weakling who was a horrible bowler, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2008/05/barack-obama-ne.html&;ei=6VIuUMmGDMyo0AG2z4Eo&usg=AFQjCNGC9MujwXCUyn4wDMQTWcep49--kw&sig2=PPLFleynNNt_-tGhglw3Ug" href="http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=8&ved=0CK8BEBYwBw&url=http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2008/05/barack-obama-ne.html&;ei=6VIuUMmGDMyo0AG2z4Eo&usg=AFQjCNGC9MujwXCUyn4wDMQTWcep49--kw&sig2=PPLFleynNNt_-tGhglw3Ug">marveled at arugula and otherwise failed at manhood. The gospel among Republicans, and even many Democrats, held that Obama was yet another espouser of effete liberalism, a tradition allegedly pioneered by Adlai Stevenson, elevated by Jimmy Carter, apotheosized by Michael Dukakis, and admirably upheld by a windsurfing John Kerry.
“There is in Obama something of the Democratic candidate for president in the 1950s, Adlai Stevenson,” wrote Dick Morris in 2008. Lest you miss what that “something” was, Morris’s column was titled “Obama’s Weakness Is Weakness.” National Review asserted that “Real Men Vote for McCain” and claimed that Obama “projects weakness” of the sort that was http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/166071/real-men-obama-weakness/peter-kirsanow&;ei=NVcuUIXULuLw0gGS9YDoAw&usg=AFQjCNHc7nBm4umdqIYPcDwmnKiwnMGJNg&sig2=suDqrC6yOQaNQrPem4ptbw" href="http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CDgQFjAA&url=http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/166071/real-men-obama-weakness/peter-kirsanow&;ei=NVcuUIXULuLw0gGS9YDoAw&usg=AFQjCNHc7nBm4umdqIYPcDwmnKiwnMGJNg&sig2=suDqrC6yOQaNQrPem4ptbw">“an enticement to bad guys around the world.” In 2008 McCain asserted: “Senator Obama says that I’m running for Bush’s third term. It seems to me he’s running for Jimmy Carter’s second.” Early in Obama’s presidency, Coulter described Obama’s approach to Iran as “weak-kneed” and denounced him as a “scaredy-cat.” Surely such a man would see your all-American daughter sold to Ayman al-Zawahri and the Constitution replaced by Shariah law.
But a funny thing happened on the way to 2012. As it turns out, the ingesting of arugula in no way interferes with one’s ability to have Osama bin Laden shot. Mitt Romney may attack Obama for “apologizing for America” overseas. But the audience for that charge is thin. In polls, Obama consistently beats Romney on national security. A recent Ipsos/Reuters poll found Obama leading Romney on the issue 47 to 38 percent and the campaign against terrorism 50 to 35 percent.
Among the ranks of bullies, the only fair fight is the one that ends with them laughing and kicking sand. And so, no longer able to portray Obama as weak, the authors of Willie Horton, swift-boating and modern day poll-taxing have been reduced to other tactics — among them wildly yelping, “Please, Mr. President, nothing to the face.”
Arugula partisan that I am, I must admit to some glee here. Watching Obama campaign is like watching an irradiated Peter Parker spar with Flash Thompson. It is deceptively easy, for instance, to see Harry Reid’s smearing of Romney not as the unsubstantiated, unevidenced ambush that it is, but as revenge.
That way lies the abyss. I am not simply thinking of Senator Reid’s shadow war, but of the president’s. Obama’s tough guy bona fides were largely built on the expansive bombing campaign he launched against Al Qaeda, a campaign that regards due process and the avoidance of civilian casualties as indulgences.
Let us grant that the execution of Anwar al-Awlaki, said to be the mastermind behind the foiled underwear bomb plot, should not much trouble us. But surely the killing of his 16-year-old American-born son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, and the secrecy around both acts, should.
I like to think that the junior Awlaki’s (reportedly accidental) death weighs heavy on the president’s conscience. In fact that weight does nothing to change the net result — from this point forward the presidency means the right to unilaterally declare American citizens to be American enemies, and then kill them.
During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama earned the G.O.P.’s mockery. Now he has earned their fear. It is an ambiguous feat, accomplished by going to the dark side, by walking the G.O.P.’s talk, by becoming the man Dick Cheney fashioned himself to be.