Jonah Goldberg

One of the great things about American politics is its capacity for punishing hubris.

For the ancient Greeks, hubris didn't merely describe god-like arrogance. It was a crime, usually defined as taking too much pleasure in the humiliation of your foes. In its modern usage it usually means the pride that comes before the fall.

In the wake of Barack Obama's State of the Union address, both connotations seem at least a little apt. We are well into our fourth month of epidemic thumb-suckery over the question, "Are the Republicans doomed?" The latest New York Times Magazine asks, "Can the Republicans Be Saved from Obsolescence." The wished-for answer doesn't require much reading comprehension.

Since the election, a slew of political reporters and analysts -- never mind the self-declared Obama boosters -- have argued that Obama will, must or should crush his enemies (and by enemies, I mean the Republicans). Slate's John Dickerson wrote that if Obama "wants to transform American politics, he must go for the throat."

"Obama's only remaining option," Dickerson continued, "is to pulverize. Whether he succeeds in passing legislation or not, given his ambitions, his goal should be to delegitimize his opponents."

Many conservative observers agreed. Michael Barone wrote, "Obama begins his second term with a strategy to defeat and humiliate Republicans rather than a strategy to govern." Rich Lowry, my boss at National Review, wrote that Obama's approach to the debt-ceiling fight should have been called "Operation Humiliation."

That strategy worked for Obama, he figures, so why quit now? His second inaugural address was a frilly campaign stump speech, dividing fools and devils (Republicans) from the wise and the sainted (Democrats).

His State of the Union address, already fading from the mind's eye like the afterglow of a flashbulb, showed that Obama remains committed to his hammer-and-tongs style. His ludicrous claims that massive new expansions of government won't add a "single dime" to the deficit -- technically true, since they would add trillions of dimes to the deficit -- alone made it clear that he's still in campaign mode.

Obama and many in his chorus remain convinced that, after that momentary hiccup known as the 2010 midterm elections, America is finally on a glide path to the new progressive era they'd long been promised.

This is where the two meanings of hubris come together. Liberals panting after the transformative Obama presidency are only seeing what they want to see. The GOP suffered from the same sort of wishful thinking when Republicans believed that George W. Bush -- and Ronald Reagan before him -- signaled a partisan realignment.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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