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People weren’t paying attention. Those are the people now surprised that President Obama is still stridently campaigning instead of doing the real work of governing.
Even some who voted for him last month are puzzled as he threatens to take the nation off the fiscal cliff if Republicans don’t give him the tax hikes he demands now and puts off entitlement reform until later. He even wants to increase spending.
I’ve talked to people who supported him, and their surprise is surprising.
“I thought he was going to move toward the center after the election,” one stunned Obama backer told me. Another said he believed the president’s positions were opening gambits and he would compromise. “It’s the first round,” he insisted.
Both are smart, accomplished men, but I’m baffled that they didn’t see this coming. Where, exactly, is the evidence that Obama is willing or able to work with people who disagree with him? Tick, tock, time’s up — there isn’t any evidence, because he’s not.
Again and again, the first term revealed Obama’s idea of bipartisanship: Dissenters are unpatriotic and must surrender. Compromise is a one-way street for him.
As polarizing and ineffective as that approach was, he was rewarded with four more years. A different man might see that as a mulligan — a second chance to get it right.
Not Obama. His behavior now is even more troubling.
That he’s willing to risk sending the economy back into recession and killing even more jobs leads me to believe his second term will be far more radical than the first. A stranger to humility, he thinks re-election confers a blank check.
His demand that spending cuts and entitlement reform be put off, while Republicans give him the tax hikes and the stimulus he wants, suggests he’s not serious about facing the mountain of debt. In that case, no progress is possible as the nation hurtles toward disaster.
The fear is reinforced with his sudden bid to have sole and permanent authority to raise the debt limit. As it stands, Congress’ power to set the ceiling serves as a practical check and balance.
His effort to eliminate it is something that happens in a banana republic. Is that where Obama wants to take America?
Sadly, many Americans believe the answer is yes. A friend wrote to express that view forcefully:
“Obama has deliberately destroyed the world’s best medical system. He is deliberately destroying the world’s strongest economy and currency. He has destroyed the world’s best political system by governing by executive order. He has started destroying the world’s best military.”
I don’t accept the idea that the president is intentionally trying to destroy America, but I do believe his policies are weakening it.
Still, it remains possible for Obama to rally a solid majority of the country and Congress. He would need only to govern as the most important leader, but not the only leader, in our representative democracy.
He would need to do what only a president can: Guide the nation forward by shaping a broad, bipartisan consensus of public support for key policies.
Instead, Obama is opting to overreach, recklessly and without purpose beyond imposing his own ideology. Lots of trouble, but no good, is the only possible outcome.
To continue reading Michael Goodwin's column on other topics, including "cheapskates" Bill and Hillary, click here.