So, with that qualification, what's my feelings about the Obama presidency from this point in time? My general impression is that it has been, more-or-less, competent enough. Not earth shatteringly brilliant, of course. I don't think anyone argues that. Quite a few mistakes and embarrassments, but all Presidents have those. But not terrible. Or, if you like, no where near as bad as his lack of qualifications would have indicated was possible. The general impression is one of a pretty cautious man of reasonable character* who hasn't stuffed things up to a significant degree. But then again, nor has he been able to take action on certain matters as he should.
My general impression is bolstered by an article in The Economist which argues that he deserves more credit than he is being given on economic policy. This feels about right to me.
But of course, a significant part of my feelings about Obama is derived not so much from seeing that he especially deserves credit for leadership and smarts, but from seeing how the Right in the US has run off some ideological cliffs in the last three years, and simply does not appear credible in so many ways now.
Everyone knows I think climate change is important, and really despise the way a handful of unconvinced climate scientist's opinions have been inflated by virtue of the internet into a powerful public and political influence against taking action on CO2. This quintessentially unscientific enterprise has had its greatest effect on the Right in the US, no doubt because small government and libertarian inclinations are strongest there and these ideologies are always inclined to be hostile to government action of any kind which interfere with how businesses operate. It's a major embarrassment for those who think the Right is usually the side which is the most pragmatic and accepts evidence as to what works and what doesn't, and is not stuck on ideologically fixated non solutions as the Left can be.
I worry now that readers may think that I put attitude to climate change as my number one priority for assessing politicians. But, honestly, is it my fault that this does indeed seem to be the bellwether for common sense and reliability in most matters now? I mean, even if the Tea Party was not effectively forcing Republican candidates to become overtly dismissive of global warming, I am sure I would still be dismissive of their economic ideas which are, essentially, a triumph of ideology over practicality.
For example, have a look at this article in The Atlantic about Romney's ill formed and "impossible" tax plan. I don't trust Krugman on absolutely every point, but I find most of what he complains about in the Republicans to be credible and biting. His recent column on health costs, for example, or his long standing assessment that Paul Ryan has an undeserved reputation for being serious on fiscal policy.
I don't have a problem with the proposal that the US economy needs some major tax overhaul, and that spreading the tax base is a good idea, and removing some silly deductions is badly needed. But it seems that you do not get serious and fair plans being put by the Right anymore - in fact Krugman argues the Republicans are stuck on stupid from way back. Instead, you get things like Herman Cain with a 999 plan that is so extreme in its effects that even the Wall Street Journal was cool about it. And you get a fetish about returning to a gold standard (from Cain and sympathetic sounds from Ryan - who, for God's sake, is quoted as saying he finds Ayn Rand influential on the topic.)
It's hard not to conclude that the problem is simply that, while all politicians hate the idea of selling increased taxes to the public, the part of the Right which is absolutely ideologically committed to the idea that increases in taxes are universally Evil and Bad, and decreases in taxes always and in every circumstance a Good Thing, is currently in control of the Republicans. Along with this goes the idea that small government is always better government, and (now) that Keynesian spending is always bad. And gold. Going back to gold is always good.**
These are, frankly, matters where ideologiy is triumphing over pragmatism, and either ignoring evidence, or interpreting evidence with this predetermined conclusion in mind. It is no wonder that those who hold these views are nearly always also disbelievers in climate change.
And look at how separated from reality Right wing commentary is becoming. Large slabs of it in the US, and some of the equivalent wingnuts in Australia, thought that Clint Eastwood's performance at the Republican convention was unalloyed brilliance that was somehow all the more effective for being rambling and looking like it was being "winged" (as indeed it was.) Ann Althouse:
AND: Here's the whole Eastwood performance. Is it really that hard to get? No, they're merely playing dumb (and humorless), even though they want the other party to be known as "the stupid party."I can handle people saying something like "it wasn't so bad, it played well enough to the crowd" (even though I personally think the fact the crowd found some of the ill considered jokes hilarious made them look pretty stupid). What I can't get (to the point of doubting people's sanity) is the assessment that it was a brilliant bit of "jazz improvisation" or (to paraphrase someone at Catallaxy) that it was culturally important as giving Americans permission to finally be dismissive of Obama. The crazed Obama and Gillard hating mind that wrote that knows completely about the rabid wingnut blogs in the States (he links to them frequently), and endorsed Limbaugh slut-calling of Sarah Fluke; yet he thinks the nation was waiting for permission to be crude, rude and ugly towards Obama and anyone who supports him?
UPDATE: I just rewatched the performance. It was great! Hilarious... subtle... well-paced.... The haters are totally bullshitting and playing dumb (assuming they are not actually dumb). And what they are trying to do is scare other celebrities: Toe the line or we will destroy you. That crushing repression is the opposite of what the performing arts should be about.
As I say, the Right, in large part, has gone stupid; I'm just sitting here waiting for it to return towards me.
* I tend to sympathise with most Presidents of either persuasion, although I always felt very cool towards Reagan - I just never got the "Great Communicator" tag and was not convinced that there was much in the way of natural intellect there. I have always been persuaded by Christopher Hitchen's take on the man. But it's arguably the most important job in the world, constantly involving complicated decisions of life and death with regard to military and foreign affairs in particular. I don't really see why anyone wants the responsibility and takes it on.
** The linkage between climate change denialism and a fixation on gold is remarkable. Australia's Jonova and her husband David Evans are gold bugs from way back.