Barack Obama has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. His programs are stalled in Congress. The economy is about as bad as it's ever been. The Supreme Court is poised to throw out at least portions of his health care plan. And many liberals are saying he's not liberal enough.
Still, he's faces no worse than 50-50 odds for re-election and it's probable that at this time next year he'll be planning what to do in his second term. Polls show him winning against just about all of the potential Republican nominees.
Why are his political fortunes so good when, by any objective measure, he should be trailing by 20 percentage points? A lot of it has to do with the president's enduring likability. His policies are not wildly popular, but the man, himself, is still well liked. His good intentions, if nothing else, lead many people to still believe in him.
Also, the Republican candidates who would replace him are, as a group, radical, unstable, scandal-ridden and have shown themselves in debates to be increasingly incompetent and tone-deaf to the nation's concerns.
When the nation's No. 1 problem is jobs, Republicans are proposing more tax cuts for the wealthy.
For the health care issues, their prescription is tax cuts for the wealthy. In foreign policy, the Republicans don't have any positions, only opposition to everything Obama has done except kill Osama bin Laden.
The current frontrunner, Newt Gingrich, is a curious relic from a bygone, pre-Internet era of outrage at what happened in Waco and a determination to investigate then President Bill Clinton's financial and sexual escapades. He disappeared in a puff of smoke, like the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, when his own sexual scandals emerged the same time as Clinton's.
Since then he has made himself even wealthier by sucking up to the same corporations and billionaires whose interests he protected so intently while in Congress. He has offered no new proposals and seems oddly proud of that fact. He'd lose 45 states to Obama if the election were held today.
Then there's Mitt Romney, the poster child for empty rhetoric, whose campaign makes Gingrich's look positively cerebral. Romney's chief qualification seems to be that he is an authoritative-looking white man with experience in the executive boardroom and that he's not as outwardly crazy as his competitors.
All of the other candidates are nothing more than the answer to a future trivia question. Jon Huntsman is a competent, thoughtful leader with a well-defined centrist political philosophy. He is given less than a 1 percent chance of winning. Michele Bachmann is flat-out insane, the equivalent of the crazy neighborhood lady who hands out Christian tracts instead of candy on Halloween. Rick Perry is George W. Bush minus the latter's charisma and intelligence.
Then there's Rick Santorum, whose name is most closely associated with the sexual term his opponents have assigned to him.
Which leads us to Ron Paul, the 76-year-old physician who thought Ronald Reagan was too liberal and who may even think that the earth has not been proven to be round. He draws massive enthusiasm and large crowds of supporters on the campaign trail but is not taken seriously by the media.
Of course, there's quite a bit of irony in this fact, given that Paul has offered more concrete policy ideas and programs than any candidate in 50 years or more. A race between him and Obama would give voters the clearest choice between differing philosophies since LBJ and the ghost of JFK placed their pro-civil rights, anti-poverty agenda against the small-government, pro-apocalypse viewpoints of Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Paul voted against the Iraq war and opposes the war on drugs because both represent an unnecessary intrusion of government. He opposes capital punishment on the same grounds. He's a staunch opponent of abortion and gun control. He's a strict constitutionalist who believes government intervention ruins most everything it touches.
An Obama vs. Paul campaign would be the most issues-driven campaign in our lifetimes and the winner would have a true mandate from the people.
As it stands, conventional wisdom says Paul doesn't have a chance of winning a single primary, let alone the election, which is a damned shame. I don't like Paul's stance on the issues, but I respect him as a man who believes what he says and would work tirelessly to make America a better place.
Obama's biggest gift of all this holiday season is that he won't have to run against a candidate such as Paul, who would have challenged the president. Instead, we'll get to watch yet another Republican implode on the campaign trail and will get four more years of the calm, assured leadership Obama has tried so hard to give us. I suppose we should all be grateful.