Obama’s single achievement is something he scarcely intended and likely will lament for the rest of his days: the reinvigoration and reorientation of the right to first principles in the aftermath of the Bush presidency. Prior to Obama’s ascendance, the right was riven between big-government conservatives, libertarians, social conservatives, interventionists, activists, and intellectuals. The right was more interested in its divisions than its commonalities. Years of power had made us sloppy and complacent and sometimes corrupt.
Obama illustrated, boldly and shockingly, the power and drive of a resurgent progressivism. His grandiose designs forced conservatives into rethinking their attitude toward public policy in light of American exceptionalism and the American Founding. Suddenly finding themselves unwilling passengers on Obama’s progress train, conservatives remembered those they had left behind: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Adams, and Lincoln. Only in reversing course, in returning to the supposedly outmoded and old-fashioned ideas of natural rights and constitutionalism, would conservatives begin to prepare the ground or a renewed America. That is why Obama’s grade is a D Plus rather than outright failure. Who says conservatives don’t believe in grade inflation?
Barack Obama, future historians will remember, gave new life to something thought dead. Maybe he is a miracle worker after all.