In 2008, Americans were fed up. Wars, a terrible economy, dishonesty, adrift from our core beliefs. That November, Barack Obama said, "Change," which may basically have meant, "Not that." Not that direction for America. Not that economic policy.
And it worked. America didn't want that. America wanted something different.
Now, reasonable people can debate the extent to which America got something different. It's certainly the case that the driving motivations of presidents Bush and Obama are quite distinct. But as next year's election looms, Obama's problem is that wars and the economy and the vision for how America should act in the world are still on shaky ground. It opens wide the door for an opponent to say: not that.
But Barack Obama has gotten incredibly lucky. He has a slew of opponents who are grabbing the mic and saying: "this."
The headliner for this is, of course, Donald Trump. His racially offensive, obnoxious trumpeting of the most disreputable political theory in recent memory has done two things. It laid bare the embarrassing failure of the Republican Party to stem this line of thinking -- and, at times, their encouragement of it. And it also earned him the pole position in the Republican primary race.
Other Republicans are staking out the party's extreme positions in other ways. Paul Ryan is sketching the boundaries of their willingness to undermine the medical and economic security of seniors. Governors and state houses across the country are in a race to do the most damage to the rights of workers and women. Recent proposals have included forcing foster children to get secondhand clothes, making abortion a felony, and requiring a very particular kind of birth certificate from federal candidates.
This! These things are what elected Republicans believe should be the law of the land! Undermining the ability of the poor to escape poverty, of working people to care for their families, of seniors to get their medications. And holding the banner at the front of the parade, Donald Trump. And the banner reads, "Who elected this black guy, anyway?"
Making it very easy for President Obama to once again simply say: not that.