Americans continue to look to the federal government for solutions to every endemic problem, from inequality to the business cycle to rampage killings to the weather. Americans continue to lobby the federal government for additional economic and social rights and guard those rights zealously from interference once they have been granted. But only the smallest of minorities, the men and women who wear uniforms, seems eager to perform the duties necessary to ensure self-government.
A president known for his passivity and cool seized this moment of conservative doubt and uncertainty. In the weeks after his reelection, Obama displayed enormous and impressive energy as he moved to break the Republican Party. He pressed the GOP on every front, including tax increases, the debt ceiling, gun control (sorry: “gun violence prevention”), an immigration plan that includes amnesty for illegal migrants, and nominating for secretary of defense a Republican dove who, unlike every other prospective cabinet member, is eager to whittle down his department. The Republicans meanwhile have collapsed into infighting and retreat and, in some cases, outright delusion.
It is of course possible that the inauguration of a reelected president is his moment of maximum triumph. It is of course possible that Obama’s second term may turn out like George W. Bush’s, when the lyricism and passion of the second inaugural collided with the realities of strategic miscalculations and unexpected events. I have my doubts. What I do not doubt is that the generation of conservatives and Republicans who return one day to power will be forced to reckon with the consequences of the Obama revolution, just as a generation of defeated liberals were forced to confront and in some cases accept the revolution of Ronald Reagan.