Paul Begala NAILS IT:
Barack Obama is a remarkably gifted politician. But his cardinal political error has been that at times he seems to lack the imagination to even conceptualize how truly nihilistic, irresponsible, partisan, and, yes, crazy his Republican opponents are. The last Democratic president saw the Republicans shut down the government, squander millions on partisan witch hunts—including taking 140 hours of sworn testimony investigating President Clinton’s Christmas-card list—and drag the country through an impeachment process. Despite that history—and despite that Obama may be dealing with Republicans who are even more ideological and self-destructive than in Clinton’s day—he still expressed a blind faith in their reasonableness. How quaint.
This faith in the reasonableness of others is quintessentially American. We are, after all, a nation born of the Enlightenment. John Locke, the intellectual godfather of the American Revolution, said, “Reason must be our last judge and guide in everything.” But John Locke was a 17th-century English philosopher, not a 21st-century Tea Party nihilist. Obama, sadly, is not dealing with Mr. Locke—nor with Mr. Spock—but rather with zealous partisans who would, it seems, gladly harm the country in order to hurt the president. Highly illogical, perhaps, but real.
Our president, however, is nothing if not smart. And so he has adapted. Instead of sitting with Boehner and Cantor and McConnell, seeking to appeal to the cool light of reason, which failed so miserably in previous budget showdowns, he is barnstorming the country, basking in the warm glow of popular approval. Whereas once he seemed to prefer the prophet Isaiah’s entreaty, “Come now, let us reason together,” now he seems to be channeling the prophet Ezekiel: “I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes.”
Fortunately for our nation, the president seems to have hit upon a strategy that works. Republicans are more divided and more extreme, while Democrats seem more united and more mainstream. By a 3–1 margin in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, voters say the GOP prefers partisanship to national unity, while a slight plurality views Obama as putting unity before party.