David Frum makes a curious argument:
Whether it was health care or the deficit or now the debt ceiling, direct encounters between Obama and his Republican opposite numbers have always ended badly for the president.
Why do I choose the modifier of "curious"? Because on the first issue -- health care -- Frum has tirelessly and rather courageously admonished his fellow conservatives for losing, by not playing. Now, suddenly, it has "ended badly for the president." And any verdict on the next two issues -- the deficit and debt ceiling -- is obviously premature.
So where does that leave Frum's argument? Contradictory, for starters; otherwise, presumptuous.
Even more interesting is Andrew Sullivan's assessment of Frum's:
I agree, I'm afraid. I know Obama wants to get things done and also believes that taking a strong stand in advance of legislation can prevent that. But without the clarity of rhetorical leadership, you end up in the miasma of legislative minutiae that leaves the impression that Washington has not changed at all. The result, of course, is that it hasn't.
Yet Sullivan's conclusion is, of course, demonstrably untrue. Washington has changed radically, in both general senses of the word.
Not since Abe Lincoln took office has a president's political opposition been so ruthlessly determined to oppose -- even to the point of national disloyalty, which is precisely what the GOP's treacherous machinations over the debt limit represent. It is futile to look back on Obama's first two years and speculate that he should have done this, or that he should have done that, and then this or that might have proceeded better; it is futile because whatever path Obama might have chosen, his opposition was acrobatically hellbent on obstructing it.
If Obama is to be properly faulted, then his fault lies in the rather incongruent criticism of excessive rationality. No one, least of all a chief executive of profound intellect and with a corresponding belief in the great and unifying power of Reason, could have predicted in January 2009 that the spiritually broken Grand Old Party would redouble its preceding madness, and then double that, and double even that again. No one could have predicted the right's absolutely surreal hypocrisy on debt and spending, its Obama-as-Hitler posters, its "death panel" frenzies and its birther lunacy and its Socialist Dictator! dementias. Neither could anyone have predicted the activist left's infantile behavior and ceaseless crankiness.
No one could have, and no one did.
Yet now we encounter the magnificent bounty of hindsight. And it's pointless. Because the right was always determined to sabotage Obama's presidency -- if "unusually extreme and intransigent" methods, as Frum grants, proved insufficient, then what the hell; economic treason might do the trick -- and with each passing day, it doubles down on its determination.
Again ... not since Lincoln.