Obama is said to go over every name on his Predator drone targeted-assassination list -- a kill tally that is now seven times larger in less than four years than what George W. Bush piled up in eight. Guantanamo is just as open now as it was in 2008. If Obama supporter and former Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh was once accusing President Bush of being "torturer in chief," he is now an Obama insider arguing that bombing Libya is not really war and that taking out an American citizen and terrorist suspect in Yemen is perfectly legal. Previously bad renditions, preventative detentions and military tribunals are now all good.
Some disgruntled conservatives jumped ship in 2008 for the supposedly tightfisted Obama when he called for halving the deficit in four years and derided George Bush as "unpatriotic" for adding $4 trillion to the national debt. Yet Obama already has exceeded all the Bush borrowing in less than four years.
What accounts for the radical change in mood from four years ago?
The blue-state model of large government, increased entitlements and high taxes may be good rhetoric, but it is unsound reality. Redistribution does not serve static, aging populations in a competitive global world -- as we are seeing from California to southern Europe. "Hope and change" was a slogan in 2008; it has since been supplanted by the reality of 40 straight months of 8-percent-plus unemployment and record deficits -- despite $5 billion in borrowed priming, near-zero interest rates, and vast increases in entitlement spending.
Obama's bragging of drilling more oil despite, rather than because of, his efforts is supposed to be a clever appeal to both greens and business. Private equity firms are good for campaign donations but bad when a Republican rival runs them. "Romney would do worse," rather than "I did well," is the implicit Obama campaign theme of 2012.
To be re-elected, a now-polarizing Obama believes that he must stoke the fears of some of us rather than appeal to all of our hopes by defending a successful record, while smearing with the old politics rather than inspiring with the new. That cynical calculation and constant hedging and flip-flopping may be normal for politicians, but eventually it proves disastrous for the ones who posed as messianic prophets.