After the 9/11 attacks, even as Democrats set aside partisan concerns to support President George W. Bush's response to the crisis, Bush and the Republicans painted the Democrats as "soft on terror" and unpatriotic. The GOP did whatever it took to expand and solidify power.
In 2004, the Republicans and the Right went so far as to portray Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry as a fake Vietnam War hero. GOP activists even mocked his war wounds by passing out "Purple Heart Band-Aids" at the Republican National Convention.
Then, after Bush rode his post-9/11 reputation as a "war president" to a second term, Republican operatives like Rove and Norquist saw their moment for making their political power permanent, in effect turning the United States into a one-party state with the Democrats kept around for the necessary cosmetics of a "democracy." The GOP would use its money, its media and its control of the judicial process to make successful electoral challenges unthinkable.
But 2005 instead turned out to be the GOP's high-water mark, a time of premature celebration, the last moment of sunlight before the arrival of darkening clouds, or in this case, the American people's realization that the Right's anti-government extremism -- mixed with the neocons' imperialist wars -- was a recipe for disaster.
Bush's inept handling of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that it inflicted along the Gulf of Mexico showed the downside of a hollowed-out federal government. And the bloody stalemate in Iraq revealed the dangers of ill-conceived military adventures.
Bush's tax-cutting and deregulation produced other harmful consequences, including soaring federal deficits, rising income inequality, an eroding middle class and an unstable "bubble" economy that finally burst in 2008. The electorate's recognition of Bush's failures led to Democratic victories, including Obama's election as President.
Yet, despite the extraordinary national crisis that Bush left behind -- millions of Americans losing their jobs and their homes as well as two unfinished wars -- the Republicans refused to play the role of "loyal opposition." They pulled out their successful playbook from the early Clinton years and confronted Obama with unrelenting hostility.
Once again, the obstructionist strategy worked at least in a narrow political sense. By mid-2009, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and other loud voices from the muscular Right-Wing Machine had whipped up a passionate Tea Party opposition to Obama, including crypto-racist allegations that the President was born in Kenya, despite the evidence of birth records in Hawaii.
Meanwhile, America's weak and disorganized Left mostly complained that Obama hadn't delivered on everything that he should have. For his part, Obama squandered valuable time reaching out for a bipartisanship that never came, and the mainstream news media faulted him anyway for failing to achieve that bipartisanship.
So, the Right surged to electoral victories in 2010. Republicans reclaimed the House and seized control of many state governments. Senior Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, openly declared that their top priority would be to ensure Obama's failure as President and his defeat in 2012. Part of the Republican strategy to reclaim national power was to disenfranchise blacks and other minorities by creating obstacle courses of legal impediments to voting, such as onerous voter ID laws and reduced hours.
Many top GOP operatives, including Rove, remained confident of success as late as Election Night 2012, expecting Mitt Romney to unseat Barack Obama. However, Democrats blocked many of the voter-suppression schemes and Obama marshaled an unprecedented coalition of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, women and the young to decisively defeat Romney.
In Congress, Democrats strengthened their control of the Senate and narrowed the Republican majority in the House. That GOP majority was retained only because Republicans had gerrymandered districts after the 2010 elections enabling the party to keep most seats despite losing the popular vote nationally.
During his Second Inaugural Address, Obama also made clear that he had finally forsaken the "inside game" of trying to sweet talk the Republicans into cooperation or negotiating from positions of weakness. Instead, Obama delivered a strong defense of American progressivism. He tied that tradition to the ideals of the Framers who wrote the Constitution with the intent of creating a vibrant Republic, a government of, by and for the people.
Obama's speech and its warm reception apparently unnerved Speaker Boehner who suddenly saw something akin to an existential threat to the GOP. There were the painful election results, the nation's shifting demographics, the newly assertive President, and hundreds of thousands of Americans again packing the Mall to celebrate Obama's victory.
After his Inaugural Address as he stepped back into the U.S. Capitol, President Obama paused, turned around and looked back at the throngs of people waving American flags as far as the eye could see. He said wistfully, "I'm not going to see this again."