Democrats forget they also wanted a superhero president

What both parties want in the White House (iStock)

David Axelrod, a former campaign adviser to President Obama, echoed many panicked Republicans on Monday when he said the president is responsible for the rise of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump. In a New York Times essay, he wrote that voters “almost always” seek candidates who have “the personal qualities the public finds lacking in the departing executive.”

This year, writes Mr. Axelrod, “many Republicans view dimly the very qualities that played so well for Mr. Obama in 2008. Deliberation is seen as hesitancy; patience as weakness. His call for tolerance and passionate embrace of America’s growing diversity inflame many in the Republican base, who view with suspicion and anger the rapidly changing demographics of America. The president’s emphasis on diplomacy is viewed as appeasement."


Mr. Axelrod isn’t the first to marvel at the anger among Republican voters—though much of it is anger at their own leaders for not being more successful at blocking or repealing Obama policies. But during Mr. Obama’s first term, many liberals and Democrats also criticized the president for being too timid and too patient. Why, when the Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, didn’t Mr. Obama fight harder for a single-payer health insurance system, and why couldn’t he get a bigger federal stimulus package? Even after the Republicans won big in the 2010 congressional elections, many rank-and-file Democrats considered the president a weakling for signing an extension of the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush.

Even now, some Democrats point to Mr. Obama’s inability to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center, a move strongly opposed by both the Pentagon and Congress, as proof of his ineffectiveness. The perception that he gave in too much to Republicans may have been on Bernie Sanders’s mind when he said in 2011, asked about a primary challenge to Mr. Obama’s second term, “I think it would do this country a good deal of service if people started thinking about candidates out there to begin contrasting what is a progressive agenda as opposed to what Obama is doing.”

The grousing about Mr. Obama from members of his own party during his first term led political scientist Brendan Nyhan to reach for a superhero analogy in describing the American hunger for a strong president. Mr. Nyhan described the Green Lantern fallacy as “the belief that the president can achieve any political or policy objective if only he tries hard enough or uses the right tactics.”

That sounds a lot like Mr. Trump’s appeal—he’ll somehow get things done through sheer force of will—and there’s something disingenuous about Democrats denouncing something they had wished for not so long ago.

Still, Mr. Trump as Green Lantern seems to be part of the wishful thinking by which some establishment Republicans are gingerly embracing his candidacy—at least as an alternative to Texas Senator Ted Cruz. (No longer in the lead in Iowa polls, Mr. Cruz may have already reached the limits of his strategy of winning through alienating everyone he comes in contact with. He provoked one of the most factual and coherent statements to come from Mr. Trump this campaign season: "The biggest problem he has, he’s a nasty guy and nobody likes him. Not one Republican senator, he works with them every day, not one Republican senator has endorsed Ted Cruz.”)

Former GOP nominee and Senate majority leader Bob Dole made one of the most startling 10-foot-pole endorsements of Mr. Trump last week. The 92-year-old told The New York Times that Mr. Trump could “probably work with Congress, because he’s, you know, he’s got the right personality and he’s kind of a deal-maker.” Mr. Trump hasn’t given much indication that he wants to work “with” Congress, and even GOP members would have little incentive to cast many tough votes for a president who will have little to do with financing or winning their own races, but hope springs eternal that a new president can solve 21st-century gridlock on Capitol Hill.

Green Lanternism even explains the flurry of stories about former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg considering an independent campaign for the White House. One Bloomberg adviser told The New York Times that voters want “a nonideological, bipartisan, results-oriented vision.” But expecting results in Washington from an independently elected president is superhero thinking at its most extravagant. Besides, if Mr. Trump makes it through the Republican primaries, “a nonideological, bipartisan, results-oriented vision” is exactly what he’ll try to sell to the general electorate.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
2 years 8 months ago
It will be interesting to see what happens when this starts making the rounds Will Trump be toast or is he invincible?
Beth Cioffoletti
2 years 8 months ago
Sheesh. I wonder who is responsible for that video?
Chuck Kotlarz
2 years 8 months ago
A classic...the plot thickens.
Bill Mazzella
2 years 8 months ago
You can fool some people all the time...........
J Cosgrove
2 years 8 months ago
Mr Sullivan hasn't a clue. That his blog is called "unconventional" and "wisdom" are both misnomers. He is a partisan all the way and why America tolerates such bias is beyond me. Trump is where he is his solely due to one person, Rush Limbaugh. Rush has not endorsed him but made it acceptable to support him because the main stream media hates Trump. This has inflated Trump's support. It will be interesting to see what Rush does with this new information because it is so damning to Trump. He cannot afford to let it go or else Rush will lose his support. That is one of the more interesting scenarios that will play out in the next few weeks. Will Rush put Hillary in the White House because of his animus with the Republican establishment. Just imagine a Hillary commercial if Trump is the Republican nominee. He is on video endorsing her and telling everyone how smart and capable she is and how she has such smart people around her. The main stream media should love Trump now that he is one of them and they didn't know it.


The latest from america

Father Michael Nixon and parishioner work a volunteer table at St. Dominic Catholic Church in Panama City, Fla. Photo by Atena Sherry.
Much like New Orleans’ Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina, the low-income neighborhoods east of Panama City, where St. Dominic is located, were especially hard-hit by the storm. Now residents here are desperate for help.
Atena SherryOctober 18, 2018
“I believe there are adequate, alternative options for true women’s health care out there, and Planned Parenthood is not needed,” said Alisha Fox, a health and wellness coach at a Catholic fertility center in Chicago.
Colleen ZeweOctober 18, 2018
 Ethiopian Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel of Addis Ababa checks out the name badge of Nathanael Lamataki, a youth delegate from the French territory of New Caledonia in the South Pacific, as they leave a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Cardinal Souraphiel highlighted the role globalization plays in connecting young people in unjust ways.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 18, 2018
The pope said he would visit North Korea “if an official invitation arrives.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 18, 2018