President Barack Obama is more exasperated than ever as polls dip, critics multiply, and none of his massive borrowing seems to jump start a stalled economy. He seems bewildered that House Republicans did not immediately agree to his tax increases proposals, and confused over why his serial calls for civility are noted—but quickly forgotten. Obama is also perplexed that businesses—in theory flush with cash after massive layoffs and budget trimming—do not listen when he presses them to start hiring. He cannot quite fathom why his conservative critics do not fully appreciate his achievement of eliminating Osama bin Laden. And the more he now talks about illegal immigration, the wackier fly his metaphors and the more edgy the slurs. What happened to the legendary Obama, the "god" whom Newsweek deified in 2008, and who was declared the "smartest" president ever by historian Michael Beschloss?
In a word, the president is discovering that Barack Obama is now at war with Barack Obama. It is not just that the public has fathomed that what Obama says one day will change the next. It is more troublesome than that: Americans are catching on that what Obama now insists is true usually proves at odds with what Obama once asserted. So the nation is insidiously tuning him out—a novel and annoying experience for the president, who heretofore had received little criticism over his habitual inconsistencies and had assumed his formidable powers of rhetoric and his own landmark heritage would trump any scrutiny from nit-picky critics.
In the recent debt discussions, Obama insisted on "balance": he was to play the role of the great compromiser in the middle who would choose the sober and judicious course between unreasonable Tea Party ideologues and fossilized Pelosi liberals. But how can he sound credible about the recklessness of not authorizing a higher debt ceiling when he himself voted not to raise it in 2006—when the aggregate debt was roughly half of what it is now? In 2007 and 2008, Obama did not even show up to the votes for authorizing a higher ceiling.
But more importantly still, Obama has proposed three budgets that ran up nearly $5 trillion in new debt. He submitted a record deficit budget for 2012 that no one in the Senate—Democrats included—could go on the record voting for. His critics assert, as even his supporters wince, that the biggest deficit spender in the history of presidential administration can hardly talk credibly now about the need for higher revenue and taxes to pay for his own profligacy. It is almost as if Obama 3.0 is saying, "Please, by no means act as President Obama 2.0 did between 2009-2011, or as Senator Obama 1.0 did from 2006-2008."
As I explain in this essay for the Hoover Institution journal Defining Ideas, Obama has been his own worst enemy on nearly every single one of his major policy proposals as president. He has lost his credibility, which is why the public is tuning him out.