One of the most striking aspects of President Obama's first 100 days has been his ability to not necessarily "feel our pain" but instead to become a role model for how we should deal with our pain. In other words, we're all in the shit -- even the president -- but here's how best to deal with it: remain calm, think clearly, set an agenda, and make sure to spend time with your family. (Because, as the famous line goes, "a man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man.")
There's a classic astronaut quality to President Obama in that, so far, he's been able to confront enormous strain with a cool but competent grasp of the mission -- there appears to be a natural respect for his duty as well as for the 300 million people he's serving. President Obama's first 100 days haven't been flawless, but considering the Apollo 13 nature of the situation he inherited, his errors could've been far more serious.
Meanwhile, his opposition has behaved like a googly-eyed, flop-sweat soaked mess -- crapping their cages and shouting gibberish about the end of the world.
The striking contrast between President Obama's grace under pressure and the apoplectic insanity of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck or Michele Bachmann is the Republican Party's greatest weakness. They're missing the narrative for the sake of blind rage. Rather than grasping, as the president has, the very simple concept that, in general, people under tremendous stress don't respond well to screeching maniacs -- especially screeching maniacs who are clearly making things up as they go -- the Republicans have, by design or by instinct, embraced this screeching maniac base.
Looking at the recent polling, it's obvious that the post-election spike in the FOX News ratings are indicative of nothing more than a consolidation of the fringe rather than a broader indication of a growing movement. In an historical sense, FOX News and talk radio numbers more closely resemble General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia during the final days of the Civil War: old men, walking wounded and terrified children hunkered down in a long and imposing U-shaped array of earthworks around Petersburg. Each unit spread thin and deployed with huge gaps along the line so as to give the illusion of more soldiers. The Republicans don't seem particularly interested in gathering real numbers and, instead, would rather just make their existing numbers seem more intimidating than they actually are.
And perhaps this is because the tea party base of the Republican Party -- certainly its de facto leader, Mr. Limbaugh -- isn't really capable of the leadership required for the challenges we face. Challenges that require a respect for details, science, logic, analytic thought and steadiness.
It's no wonder considering how, over the last 30 years, the Republican Party has become dominated by bumper sticker marketing gimmicks and dress-up play acting in lieu of substance and reason.
In the last 100 days, this costume party fakery has been illustrated by Glenn Beck dressing up like Howard Beale and making random loud noises without realizing that Beale was a tragic, suicidal character. Bobby Jindal and Michael Steele dressing up like Barack Obama knockoffs, even though it's not really President Obama's ethnicity that makes him a popular leader, but rather his character and political instincts. Michelle Malkin and Glenn Reynolds dressing up like Sam Adams, even though there's very little in common between the Sons of Liberty, who were protesting against a corporate tax cut, and the tea partiers who support tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent.
Marketing -- in this case, using patriotism and platitudes to trick people into buying their crap on a stick -- has long been the Republican strong suit, but lately it's been reduced to the logical equivalent of speaking in tongues; typically coming off as disingenuous, self-contradictory, uninformed, unserious, accidentally sexual or desperate.
As for desperation, so many of the right's attacks against the president in last 100 days have been based upon otherwise unremarkable observations, but delivered with an outraged or snarky tone so as to make the observation sound like an egregious trespass. Teleprompters, for example. Desperate for something to stick to the wall, they went with attacking the president for using a technology which literally everyone in politics and media uses.
Glenn Beck, in particular, has proved to be a master at making an otherwise normal observation sound like an attack simply by rolling his eyes and waving his hands around -- employing the sarcastic set up: "Idon'tknowaboutyou, but..." For example: "Idon'tknowaboutyou, but [rolls eyes, waves hands] Obama's use of an oval-shaped office -- that's not change we can believe in! Call me crazy, but BRAP-BEEP-FFFTT-ZOOOM!"
With pied pipers like this, it's difficult to see how the GOP can ever expect to recover on its own merit. It turns out that, in absence of substance and inspirational leadership, wishing for the president to fail is all they really have left as a path to winning again. The Republicans certainly don't possess the ability to compete based upon their own ideas and so they need the other guy to fail in order to appear more palatable.
That's a hell of a strategy. Waiting and hoping for the president to become more ridiculous than the Republicans. And in the event this occurs, how many millions of Americans will fail, too, as the consequence of both the Republicans and the president being equally as incompetent? It's no wonder why Americans are identifying with the president over the Republicans by as much as a three to one margin. Throwing in with the Republican Party in its present form feels comparatively like suicide.
I'm reasonably certain that historians will peg the legacy of the president's first 100 days based partly upon this contrast between the crazy and the calm, the substantive and the trivial, the buggy-eyed and the steady handed. And while the president has obviously won the day (the first 100, actually) on his own accord, there's no denying that this margin of victory is further widened by a remarkably self-destructive and tone deaf Republican Party.