When we accuse some right-winger of having “Obama Derangement Syndrome”, he will just scoff and point out that the Left was consumed with “Bush Derangement Syndrome” from 2001-2009. And to a certain extent, they’d be somewhat correct. For myself, I could only grudgingly applaud Mr. Bush for such things as AIDS initiatives for Africa, and his support for immigration reform.
But here’s the difference: I could acknowledge his (few) successes. For a Republican, reaching out to Africa and immigrants were things which went against the base, and required a certain bravery. The thing is, however, that the rest of his policies were so disastrous for the country that his few successes were dwarfed by them. From squandering record surpluses to crashing the economy to getting us mired in two mismanaged wars, his administration was a catalog of failure. It was already heading toward failure before 9/11; there was no doubt that he’d be a one term president. When the attacks occurred, he was able to refashion himself as a “war president”—a war he proceeded to prosecute in the most incompetent manner, sullying the nation’s ideals and honor. There was “Bush Derangement Syndrome” because everything he touched turned to lead. He didn’t kill bin Laden; he trapped us in disastrous wars; he oversaw a mass transfer of wealth to the already wealthy. So, while I agree that in some things he did well, they were drowned by his cacophony of failure.
Now let us turn to President Obama’s record. It began by him being the first African American elected president. He was able to pass a stimulus package which stanched the bleeding of the Great Recession. The US economy runs on two pillars: real estate and automobile manufacturing; real estate was on its knees; he saved the auto industry, without which the whole world would have sunk into a depression. He then fulfilled the great Democratic dream, passing comprehensive health reform, which would bring affordable health care to nearly every American. That achievement led to the GOP takeover of the House in 2010 in backlash, because some on the Left had a snit (more on that later). With the GOP in control of one house, he brilliantly conducted actions which stymied their most cherished goals, and preserved his priorities in the budget. Then against all the caterwauling of the media, he won a second term, in a convincing fashion. Then just this weekend, rattling a saber which opponents know he will use, he achieved a diplomatic resolution to Syria’s chemical weapon use, making the Autocrat of All the Russias climb down from his recalcitrant stance. And, of course, we can’t forget his other great triumph, along with Obamacare: healing that great wound in the American psyche by finally bringing Osama bin Laden to justice.
If you stack Obama’s record against Bush’s, an impartial observer would agree that the current president’s is much more impressive and transformative than that of the previous one’s.
But here is where ODS is markedly different that BDS: not one right winger will acknowledge that Obama has done anything correctly. They will either say that success is actually failure for the flag, mom, and apple pie; or, if it they admit that a particular action was successful, they will attribute that success to luck, or to the work of others under Obama, or, as in the case of Syria, to the peace-loving nature of a Russian strongman.
Obama Derangement Syndrome is different because it’s all-consuming. Nothing that he does can be credited. Everything he does must be deligitimized. He has to be shown as an empty suit, a buffoon, a clown, an incompetent, someone good at entertaining with speeches but completely out of his depth at governing. The more success he racks up, the greater the volume of this banshee wailing. The Republican Party and the Right in general have ceased standing for anything positive; they merely exist to oppose Obama in everything, no matter the damage it will do to the state. The Right’s only purpose is to conduct a scorched-earth campaign against the president.
ODS is different for another, more pernicious reason. Bush never had to face a rebellion on the Right. It marched in lockstep with whatever he did, no matter how muddleheaded. To them he was a Demosthenes, no matter how warped his words came out. It knew Bush was its man, and circled the wagons around him as his presidency crumbled with the electorate at large. But from even before his inauguration, Obama has had to face an insurgency to his left. This is a left which hasn’t had power in this country to any great degree; it’s a Left which exists to live in opposition; it’s a Left which has as maximalist a position as the Right, where anyone who doesn’t adhere strictly to every ideological tenet is not only suspect, but “not a real liberal”, a “centrist”, a “third wayer”. It’s a Left represented heavily in the blogosphere, and to a small extent in the Democratic caucus in Congress. It’s a Left which believes it elected Obama, and demands that he hew to its precepts. When he doesn’t—when he often strikes out on his own path towards what he thinks is best for the country—it turns apoplectic, calling him the kinds of names one thinks is the purview of the Right. Because Obamacare wasn’t single payer, it encouraged Democrats to stay home in 2010, handing the House to the GOP. Because Bush lied us into war in Iraq, it immediately thinks that Obama is doing the same with Syria, and will take the word of a Russian leader who passes laws stigmatizing gays and who jails journalists to its own president, who has spent the entire Syrian civil war keeping the US out of it. It’s a Left so unknowledgeable of the ways in which politics work that it believes if it screeches loudly enough the nation will swell behind it. It is a Left as distrustful and condescending towards the black guy in the White House as is the Right.
Obama Derangement Syndrome is different because almost the entire political and media classes suffer from it. People who should be political adversaries find common cause in hating Obama. Obama is the most liberal president since Franklin Roosevelt, and is succeeding at transforming the country, which infuriates the Right. And he is not the Left’s Magic Negro, which sends it into fits. When he called out both the Right and the Left in his Syria address, he displayed a polite contempt for both extremes.
In the end, Obama upends the grifts on both sides. He puts paid to the Right’s notion that Democrats are incompetent, corrupt, and have no love of country. The Left would rather be in opposition and keep the money rolling in; it doesn’t know what to do with power, so when Obama works on fixing the things the Left screeches about, he takes away their raison d’etre. He is a threat to the careful political dance which has obtained in DC since the days of Ronald Reagan. It’s the job of his supporters, and of any American who wants to see a country which is more just and doesn’t lurch from crisis to crisis, to make sure that he continues to succeed.