There’s a new meme: Barack Obama is unbeatable in 2012.

This is curious because, aside from the death of Osama bin Laden (which gave the president a small and transitory bump in the polls), nothing has changed since the days of dudgeon when my cat was considering running against the president: high unemployment, Obamacare, fear of tax increases persist. Nothing, beyond the president’s prospects, has improved.

What gives?

Shelby Steele of the Hoover Institution has an interesting take in today’s Wall Street Journal on Barack Obama’s built-in advantage:

There have really always been two Barack Obamas: the mortal man and the cultural icon. If the actual man is distinctly ordinary, even a little flat and humorless, the cultural icon is quite extraordinary. The problem for Republicans is that they must run against both the man and the myth. In 2008, few knew the man and Republicans were walloped by the myth. Today the man is much clearer, and yet the myth remains compelling.

What gives Mr. Obama a cultural charisma that most Republicans cannot have? First, he represents a truly inspiring American exceptionalism: He is the first black in the entire history of Western civilization to lead a Western nation-and the most powerful nation in the world at that. And so not only is he the most powerful black man in recorded history, but he reached this apex only through the good offices of the great American democracy.

Who can forget the euphoria when Obama was elected? What had really happened was that Americans had done something to make them feel good about themselves. To our credit, we’ve always felt awful about aspects of our racial history. This reflects a kind of basic decency. I always think of how intrinsically good-hearted Americans are whenever I see a new production of “South Pacific,” a musical that really is about race. The song says that “you have to be taught to hate,” and the converse is that you can also be taught not to hate. With the election of Barack Obama, Americans felt that they proved that they had overcome the past. 

But he is still a bad president.

In addition to our good-heartedness, we must be hard-headed. We must make the case that the election of Barack Obama has accelerated a rush towards possible financial catastrophe. Let’s not destroy ourselves to feel good about ourselves. Steele makes another intriguing point:

Donald Trump shot to the head of the Republican line by focusing on Mr. Obama as a president, calling him our “worst” president. I carry no brief for Mr. Trump, but his sudden success makes a point: Another kind of charisma redounds to those willing to challenge political correctness-those unwilling to be in thrall to the president’s cultural charisma.