How Conservatives Moved Obama to the Left

Andrew Sullivan is baffled by the Right’s refusal to take President Obama seriously as a politician or a leader:

Why not fear of Obama’s charm? Or suspicion of his cunning? Why not coopt this oh-so-willing-to-be-coopted figure to move his policies to the right (as if the individual mandate, extension of Bush tax cuts, and escalation of the war in Afghanistan could get further right)?

No. Instead we have contempt. A president who can be shouted at during a State of the Union address; a president whose birth certificate, readily available, is still questioned; a president who is regarded by an unthinkable chunk of Republicans as a Muslim; a president who allegedly cannot speak a full sentence without a TelePrompter; or, in Glenn Reynolds’ immortal words, “a racist hatemonger.”

I think it’s best to understand this as part of a deliberate strategy. Rather than try to beat Obama with a more compelling vision of the country’s direction, Republicans have tried instead to break his presidency with categorical opposition to his policies, a wide swing to the right, and a campaign of constant demonization. The hope was—and remains—that this would alienate and anger voters, and lead Republicans back to the White House.

Now, that still might happen, especially if the economy backslides into stagnation or recession. But if it doesn’t, and Obama wins re-election, then conservatives will have given themselves the worst of all possible worlds: a reinvigorated administration that now understands the futility of working with Republicans. Freed from that concern, the administration can push a bit further to the left than it would have if Republicans had chosen to compromise through Obama's first term.

Much in the same way conservative rejection made the Affordable Care Act more liberal than it would have been otherwise—because Democrats had no choice other than to hash the details out amongst themselves—the past three years of outrageous conservative behavior might yield a more liberal, more populist, and more strident Barack Obama.