Like beauty, politics is in the eye of the beholder. To wit: President Obama has been assailed by some liberal commentators for his supposedly incompetent handling of the fiscal cliff negotiations, particularly his inability to keep to his pledge to raise taxes on those making $250,000 a year. "The World's Worst Poker Player," read a headline on Paul Krugman's blog. And as the budget battle in Congress moves toward the debt ceiling, many have suggested that Obama, abetted by his baffling inability to think strategically, has painted himself into a corner. "Obama claims, and seems to genuinely believe, that he won't let Republicans jack him over the debt ceiling," says Jonathan Chait at New York. "But if Republicans could hold the middle class tax cuts hostage, they'll try to hold the debt ceiling hostage."
In this view, Obama is the equivalent of Boy Blunder: He was not only incapable of winning big when his hand was strong, but has potentially set himself up for a bloodbath at the hands of the GOP. But if we take a trip to the other side of the op-ed page, a starkly different narrative merges. According to some conservatives, Obama is the most brilliant political operative in town — ruthless, cunning, unstoppable. This is how Charles Krauthammer at The Washington Post sees Obama's handling of the fiscal cliff talks:
Now he's won. The old Obama is back. He must not be underestimated. He has deftly leveraged his class-war-themed election victory (a) to secure a source of funding (albeit still small) for the bloated welfare state, (b) to carry out an admirably candid bit of income redistribution and (c) to fracture the one remaining institutional obstacle to the rest of his ideological agenda.
Not bad for two months' work. [Washington Post]
This version of Obama enjoys nothing more than to crush his enemies, see them driven before him, and revel in the lamentations of their women. Per Peggy Noonan at The Wall Street Journal:
He doesn't want big bipartisan victories that let everyone crow a little and move forward and make progress. He wants his opponents in disarray, fighting without and within. He wants them incapable. He wants them confused…
The president intends to consistently beat his opponents and leave them looking bad, or, failing that, to lose to them sometimes and then make them look bad. That's how he does politics….
In part it's because he seems to like the tension. He likes cliffs, which is why it's always a cliff with him and never a deal. He likes the high-stakes, tottering air of crisis. Maybe it makes him feel his mastery and reminds him how cool he is, unrattled while he rattles others. He can take it. Can they? [Wall Street Journal]
At this point, we would usually say something like, "The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle." But in this case, the answer is obvious: Obama is clearly the love child of a Jedi Master and Sauron.