As we observe today's first anniversary of Barack Obama's inauguration, Sen. John McCain must be having quite a laugh.
Back during the 2008 presidential election, my liberal friends warned me that if I voted for Mr. McCain, America would stay in Iraq and escalate in Afghanistan, propping up the corrupt government there. They said that Guantanamo would stay open, harming America's image abroad.
Unemployment would rise, and the Bush-era deficits would continue to mortgage America's future. The government would bail out bankers and corporate fat cats. The president would subsidize whole industries, no matter whether it was fair or economically sound, simply to win votes in politically influential states such as Michigan. Goaded by Republican Congress members and governors, President McCain (despite his reputation to the contrary) would back wasteful pork-barrel spending with ever more bridges to nowhere.
My friends told me that another Republican administration would abuse power. It might even try to intimidate the press by refusing to take questions from hostile journalists. It might fire inspector generals who looked into questionable practices.
On social issues, they told me that a McCain administration would oppose gay marriage and continue "don't ask, don't tell" in the military.
My friends said that a white male super-patriot like John McCain would have no patience for whiners. His education speeches would blame students for not working hard enough. He might hector young people, saying "Where you come from, how much money you have, what you've got going on at home - that's no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. ... No one's written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future."
And despite Senator McCain's promises to the contrary, my friends insisted that he would walk away from the Kyoto Protocol to limit climate change.
Of course, my friends were right. I voted for John McCain, and all their dire predictions came true - under President Barack Obama.
In some ways, President Obama has even out-Bushed George W. Bush, increasing the national debt as a percentage of the gross domestic product more in one year than Mr. Bush managed in eight. And there is little doubt that a fiscal hawk like Mr. McCain would not have bailed out big business with quite the abandon that this administration has shown.
In recent months, President Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize for setting a new tone in foreign policy, and his administration backtracked from unrealistic promises to support the Kyoto Protocol. The president used his Nobel Prize acceptance speech to justify the use of war as a foreign policy tool. Neither the Norwegians who awarded the prize nor blue-state Americans seemed to care.
Granted, Mr. Obama is limited by any number of problems inherited from Mr. Bush. Now in office, he is also learning that campaign promises are not always as good as they sound. Even so, it seems odd that Mr. Obama has done any number of conservative things without gaining any support from the right (or losing much from the left).
We are irrational in our judgments of presidents in part because politics has always been more about group loyalty than rational calculation. If someone is from our team, we give them the benefit of the doubt - and then some. As the old saying goes, only Nixon can go to China. Culture wars and the resulting partisan polarization makes that doubly true.
It was much the same for President Bush. As political scientists Jeff Cohen and Costas Panagopoulos write in a book I just co-edited titled "Judging Bush," voters' perceptions of the economy under Mr. Bush reflected their subjective loyalty more than objective reality. Democrats gave Mr. Bush no credit when the economy rebounded after Sept. 11; Republicans didn't fault him when it soured in 2008.
This reality informed Mr. Bush's tactics. He made few efforts to reach out to Democrats because his team concluded that Democrats would oppose the administration no matter what it did. The Obama team quickly reached the same conclusions about Republicans.
Unfortunately, the ignorance and hyper-partisanship that divorces the political world from the real world gives politicians more incentive to organize their own partisans, and less to govern well. For that we cannot blame the politicians, only ourselves.
Robert Maranto, a Baltimore native, is the 21st Century Chair in Leadership in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.