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The Politicians Blow It (Again)

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Crash! Thud! The president's grand scheme of remaking America in the image of the Daily Kos, MSNBC and the Democratic left is encountering, hmmm, let's say some slowdowns. These should make varied American breathe more easily as they contemplate the near future.

Bad enough, from Barack Obama's standpoint, has been the refusal in recent months of at least two federal judges to affirm his right to compel universal purchase of health insurance.

The president doesn't get -- not just yet -- the right to press gang his constituents, all 300-plus million of them, into a system of nationally supervised and regulated health care.

Then last week, the Justice Department tried to wash its hands of the task of defending a law in court that the president opposes -- the Defense of Marriage Act, which bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Attorney General Eric Holder declared the law "unconstitutional," so as not to have to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court's verdict. But hold it right there. Defense of the law (signed originally by Bill Clinton, of all non-medieval-minded people, in 1998) is going forward under the patronage of House Speaker John Boehner. He has named a bipartisan congressional group that will decide how to proceed -- probably as an official party to the case.

The president doesn't get -- again, not yet -- to dump into the White House trash can understandings of marriage understood as normative for civilization, fortified by social and religious witness over thousands of years and ratified in all legal precedents up to a very, very few years ago.

Monday came the news that the administration will resume military trials of accused terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. Guantanamo -- wasn't that particular prison supposed to have closed down two years ago, according to the campaign trail promises of candidate Obama? Well, er, um, yes, it was supposed to have closed, except that no one, inside or outside the administration, could come up with a viable alternative procedure for immuring and punishing America's worst enemies.

The president doesn't get to represent America to the world as a land overcome by shame over the egregious offense of holding its enemies to account for killing Americans.

It will take some years to understand fully the enterprise of the Obama campaign -- its hope to drive away or remodel old patterns of thought and action.

Growing evidence -- the 2010 elections were the first and most obvious instance, so far -- shows that the representation and recalculation of America isn't going to get done quite as fast as the president seems to have hoped. Or as his most leftward backers may have hoped.

There is a lot of ruin in a nation, Adam Smith is supposed to have observed a couple of centuries ago. It is because nations are generally larger than the people who come to think they can turn them as adroitly as a trucker highballing for home. Nope. The traditions and ways of a great people are not so readily transcended.

The Obama administration commenced oversight of the United States with the idea of making all things new. The tilt toward overthrowing traditional, normatively based understandings of marriage (one man, one woman) was crucial in Obama's salesmanship campaign. But it ran up against the popular conviction -- broader than polls can readily show -- that other modes don't, shall we say, get the job done. The man Obama named as attorney general seems to agree people should be able to define a relationship however they want to. But that's not the view of civilization. It's the view of a coterie of activists who -- even when they president is on their side -- can't shake the civilized conviction that they know not whereof they speak.

What with Libya and the deficit and oil prices battering us day after day, it's easy to grow discouraged about the course of the nation. Resist that useless temptation. The best news of the last two years seems to be that politicians misjudge half the time. It makes you wonder why anyone bothers.

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