Jonah Goldberg

The contradictions at the heart of the Obama presidency are finally out in the open. As a result, a man who came into office hell-bent on restoring faith in government is on the verge of inspiring a libertarian revival.

There have always been (at least) two Barack Obamas. There is the man who claims to be a non-ideological problem-solver, keen on working with anybody to fix things. And there is other: the partisan, left-leaning progressive-redeemer.

As E.J. Dionne, a columnist who can usually be counted on to make the case for Obama better than Obama can, recently wrote, the president "has been a master, as good politicians are, at presenting different sides of himself to different constituencies. In 2008, he was the man who would bring us together by overcoming the deep mistrust between red and blue America and the champion of progressive change, the liberal answer to Ronald Reagan."

The dilemma for Obama is that neither is panning out because both incarnations rely on trust. The president never had much trust among Republicans, and he lost what he had when he opted to steamroll the stimulus and, later, Obamacare, on a partisan basis.

Of course, that's not how most Democrats have seen things. They've seen the last five years as a tale of Tea Party-fueled madness and racism. The conviction that conservatives are crazy, stupid and bigoted in their opposition to Obama is what has allowed the two Obamas to exist side by side. Both iterations could blame the Republicans for any shortcomings or failures.

Then came the Benghazi debacle. The president's base, according to polls and what little MSNBC viewing I could stomach, never wavered in its conviction that Benghazi was a nonscandal. But even if you don't think it was a scandal (as I do), many partisans admit the administration's response, politically and in real time, was a mess, casting the White House as deeply political and not exactly truthful.

Cue the Justice Department, which deployed the Espionage Act against a Fox News reporter and subpoenaed the records of more than 20 Associated Press phone lines. Obama tried to play the Janus game again, saying that he was "troubled" by the reports of his own administration's actions. The media has let him get away with this bystander act when it comes to things like the prison at Guantanamo Bay, but not necessarily when it comes to threats to themselves.


Jonah Goldberg

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