Often in error but never in doubt, Barack Obama could walk into the Rose Garden and step on a half-dozen rakes like Foghorn Leghorn in an old Looney Tunes cartoon, and the official line would be, "He meant to do that."
And the amazing thing is that so many people believe it. "Mr. Obama is like a championship chess player, always several moves ahead of friend and foe alike. He's smart, deft, elegant and subtle," proclaimed then-New York Times columnist Bob Herbert in 2009. It's an image of the president that his biggest fans, in and out of the press, have been terribly reluctant to relinquish -- because it confirms the faith they invested in him. Nobody every likes to admit they were suckered.
But the fiction of Obama as a man three steps ahead has taken a terrible beating if you have eyes to see it. The budget cuts under the so-called sequester are the law of the land because Obama thought he was outthinking his opponents when he gave budget-cutters budget cuts. Now he's stuck railing against his own idea. His allegedly revolutionary decision to turn his presidential campaign into a personal political organization independent from the Democratic Party has turned out to be the most expensive way ever to generate smarmy and ineffectual e-mail spam. And, if you want to believe that Obama's goal in Syria all along was to elevate Vladimir Putin and alienate all of our Middle East allies, including Saudi Arabia and Israel, to make Bashar al-Assad our strategic partner while he finds more politically correct ways to slaughter his own people, well, that's nice.
Or consider Obama's only clear-cut political victory since his re-election. Republican demands were a bit of a moving target, but basically the GOP wanted either an all-out repeal of Obamacare or, as a fallback, a one-year delay of the individual mandate. By the end, they would have taken even less.
But Obama wouldn't consider it. Instead, he played hardball with everything from national park closures to, temporarily at least, denying death benefits to military families. As the debt ceiling loomed, the GOP relented. Conventional wisdom says Obama won, and I basically agree with the conventional wisdom.
Or at least I did. There's something those of us scoring that bout didn't know: The president desperately, urgently and indisputably needed to delay the rollout of Obamacare.