Barack Obama has proven extremely lucky in his past political competition.
In his 2004 race for United States Senator from Illinois, a scandal forced his chief opponent. Jack Ryan, to withdraw from the race.
In his 2008 race for President, his opponent, Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain, chose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Her laughable ignorance persuaded millions of voters they didn’t want her “a heartbeat away” from the Presidency.
Four years later, on August 11, 2012, Mitt Romney, the expected Republican nominee for President, gave Obama another unexpected gift: He chose Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential nominee.
In 2011, as Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan released “The Path to Prosperity,” a 2012 budget resolution that he claimed would end “uncontrolled government spending” and “crushing levels of taxes.”
According to economist and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich:
“More than any other politician today, Paul Ryan exemplifies the social Darwinism at the core of today’s Republican Party: Reward the rich, penalize the poor, let everyone else fend for themselves. Dog eat dog.”
On March 12, 2012, details of Ryan’s 2013 House Budget Committee proposal were released. Among these:
- Repeal the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010.
- Turn Medicare into a private health insurance system.
- Slash funding for Medicaid, which ensures medical care for the poor, forcing states to drop coverage for 14 to 28 million low-income people, according to the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
- Reduce food stamps for poor families by 17%–$135 billion–over the decade, leading to a significant increase in hunger, especially among children.
In addition, his “H.R. 212: Sanctity of Human Life Act” would give fetuses full personhood rights from the moment of fertilization.
- Outlaw abortion even in cases of rape and incest; and
- Ban certain methods of birth control, such as IUDs and spermicides.
Unsurprisingly, Obama found it easy to turn Ryan’s Right-wing extremism against him–and Romney.
Fast forward to 2904–and the mid-term Congressional elections.
The 2010 mid-terms had given control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans. For Obama and Democrats generally, it was vitally important that their party retain control of the Senate.
But throughout 2014, a series of unexpected problems arose to plague the Obama administration.
- Tens of thousands of women and children flooded into the United States from Central America. Many of the children came unaccompanied by their parents.
- The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) started blitzing Iraq, routing the American-trained Iraqi army.
- The Secret Service allowed a White House fence jumper to penetrate the East Room through an unlocked door. Luckily, Obama and his family had just left for Camp David.
- Unknown to the Secret Service, an armed–and several times arrested–security guard rode in the same elevator as President Barack Obama.
- An Ebola-infected man flew from Liberia to Dallas to visit family. Admitted to a hospital, he died on October 8–after infecting two nurses, making them the first American victims of this deadly disease.
None of these actions was Obama’s fault:
- The flood of illegal alien children resulted from a change in legislation during the Presidency of George W. Bush.
- ISIS would have tried to establish an Islamic empire no matter who was President.
- The series of foul-ups at the Secret Service were a product of longstanding neglect within the agency.
- The series of foul-ups at the Dallas hospital were entirely a local matter, beyond the control of the White House.
Still, taken together, they convinced millions of Americans that the Federal Government was too inept or corrupt to efficiently address domestic and foreign crises.
Fortune had turned for–and on–Obama.
As Niccolo Machiavelli explained in The Prince:
If it happens that time and circumstances are favorable to one who acts with caution and prudence he will be successful. But if time and circumstances change he will be ruined, because he does not change the mode of his procedure.
No man can be found so prudent as to be able to adopt himself to this, either because he cannot deviate from that to which his nature disposes him. Or else because having always prospered by walking in one path, he cannot persuade himself that it is well to leave it.
And therefore the cautious man, when it is time to act suddenly, does not know how to do so and is consequently ruined.
Another reason for Obama’s change in fortune: Given to making inspiring speeches, he has proven consistently timid in advancing his agenda.
As Machiavelli puts it:
I certainly think that it is better to be impetuous than cautious. For fortune is a woman, and it is necessary, if you wish to master her, to conquer her by force.
And it can be seen that she lets herself be overcome by the bold, rather than by those who proceed coldly. And therefore, like a woman, she is always a friend to the young, who are less cautious, fiercer, and master her with greater audacity.
With little more than two years left in office, Obama must act decisively–and ruthlessly–if he is to secure a legacy beyond being America’s first black President.
Whether he can bring himself to do so is entirely another matter.