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July 31, 2011

Obama update

Mr. Obama seemed brilliant at politics when he first emerged in 2004. He understood the nation's longing for unity. We're not divided into red states and blue, he said, we're Big Purple, we can solve our problems together. Four years later he read the lay of the land perfectly--really, perfectly. The nation and the Democratic Party were tired of the Clinton machine. He came from nowhere and dismantled it. It was breathtaking. He went into the 2008 general election with a miraculously unified party and took down another machine, bundling up all the accrued resentment of eight years with one message: "You know the two losing wars and the economic collapse we've been dealing with? I won't do that. I'm not Bush."

The fact is, he's good at dismantling. He's good at critiquing. He's good at not being the last guy, the one you didn't like. But he's not good at building, creating, calling into being. He was good at summoning hope, but he's not good at directing it and turning it into something concrete that answers a broad public desire.

And so his failures in the debt ceiling fight. He wasn't serious, he was only shrewd--and shrewdness wasn't enough. He demagogued the issue--no Social Security checks--until he was called out, and then went on the hustings spouting inanities. He left conservatives scratching their heads: They could have made a better, more moving case for the liberal ideal as translated into the modern moment, than he did. He never offered a plan. In a crisis he was merely sly. And no one likes sly, no one respects it.

So he is losing a battle in which he had superior forces--the presidency, the U.S. Senate. In the process he revealed that his foes have given him too much mystique. He is not a devil, an alien, a socialist. He is a loser. And this is America, where nobody loves a loser.

-- Peggy Noonan