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The New Politics: Barack Obama, Party of One

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Obama’s sense of optimism about 2012 is, no doubt, only further enhanced by the unlikelihood that he’ll face a serious primary challenge within his own party. One of the fringe benefits of having placed HRC at the helm of the State Department—and don’t think this didn’t occur to Obama’s political hands when the deal was going down—is that it lowers to the vanishing point the prospect of her taking him on.

For Obama, the implications of this extraordinary degree of political security are enormous. It frees him from kowtowing to either the left or the right, to set about redefining the party in his own terms. Hardly anyone doubts that the moment for such a recasting is at hand—though they tend to imagine the future simply as an updated version of the past. “This isn’t 1933 or 1961 or 1981 all over again,” says Rosenberg. “It’s 2009, and what Obama has done is create a redirect of the entire political culture—new media, new demographics, new electoral map, a whole new set of governing challenges that will be the basis of the next 20 or 30 years. He’s gonna be a critical piece of that arc. And it’s not a restoration. It’s a period of reinvention.”

Unless, of course, it isn’t. No great feat of imagination is needed to see how the whole project could end in tears. The stimulus fails. Things continue to fall apart. A new Great Depression ensues. And Obama is blamed and soon enough finds himself out on the speaking circuit with pal (ahem) Bill Clinton.

Yet the astonishing thing about this moment is that virtually no one—besides the charter members and presiding officers of the wackjob caucus and the wingnut chorus—is yearning for that outcome. Perhaps it’s because the exogenous circumstances are so dire, but the desire to see Obama succeed is broad and deep among citizens of all persuasions. After the past two decades of politics as total war, what a blessed and glorious relief. A president that most everyone is rooting for? That may be the newest thing of all.


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