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CRB: Look back in anger

The new (Fall) issue of the Claremont Review of Books will be turned over to the US Postal Service this week. The CRB is the flagship publication of the Claremont Institute and my favorite magazine. I want to persuade you to subscribe to it, which you can do here for the ridiculously low, heavily subsidized price of $19.95 a year and get immediate online access thrown in to boot.

As usual, our friends at the CRB have let me pick pieces from the new issue to preview on Power Line. I have sought to select pieces that would give a representative sample of the riches on offer. I have of necessity passed over many truly outstanding pieces. Please check out the table of contents at the link above.

In a review/essay surveying five books on the 2012 election, Rhodes College’s Michael Nelson distills predictive lessons. Ending with the reelection of Barack Obama, the 2012 election elicits the observation that reelections bring with them their own peculiar lessons about the political landscape. As Nelson writes in “The Thrill is Gone,” they also constrain the safely reelected president:

Many of the seeds of second-term disappointment are planted during the campaign—for reasons that made perfect political sense at the time. Reelection-seeking presidents invariably order from a strategic menu with only two entrees: “Wasn’t my first term great?” (the preferred choice of popular presidents like Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan) and, if that option isn’t available (as it wasn’t for Obama), “The other guy is worse.” What almost never appears on the menu is: “Here’s my second-term agenda.”

Obama could hardly raise the former question with a straight face, so he relied on the latter and didn’t bother to put forward an agenda. Though Governor Romney presented as a perfect punching bag for the Obamatons, any of his competitors for the nomination would have served just as well, if not better. Attuned to the stupidity of their key voting blocs, Obama’s operatives had an effective genius for defaming even a man of sterling character.

Romney was in many ways beaten before he began, Nelson says, by a brutal nominating process that saw him participate in 20 debates, allowing Obama to watch at leisure as Romney’s well-funded Republican opponents drew up the battle plan of what would become the Democrats’ main line of attack against Romney. Even after the last of his Republican opponents bowed out, Romney had to wait an unusually long time before he was formally nominated (and so able to spend general election funds on his campaign), giving Obama and his supporters a free hand to slap Romney around.

Unfortunately for Obama, the primary means of his victory – bashing Richie Rich – left him with little of substance to point to for his second-term agenda. What did voters elect him for? For one, not to be Mitt Romney. For another…it’s more difficult to say. “The truth is Barack Obama didn’t show much ankle of any kind during the campaign. He is now paying the price in governing that he chose not to pay in campaigning. Hillary or no Hillary, the Democrats’ hopes of attaining an enduring majority will likely suffer, too.” So: hope for the Republican Party. To the nominating Thunderdome!

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