America is at a day of reckoning that it never quite expected to face.
Not long ago, tired of eight years of Republican rule, terrified by the September 2008 financial panic, unimpressed by the campaign of John McCain, and mesmerized by the hope-and-change elixirs and landmark candidacy of Barack Obama, the American people voted for change.
But change of what sort?
I think voters wanted an end to the Bush deficits. Big government and Wall Street insiders sickened them. They were tired of the expense of two wars. By 2006, the scandals of the Republican Congress had turned them off. But mostly voters just wanted an end to the shrill politics that had torn the country in two.
Barack Obama saw all that. So he gave the crowds what they wanted: promises of vetoes of wasteful spending, no more lobbyists, an honest Congress for once, financial sobriety, and no more red-state/blue-state, at-your-throat politics. For millions of believers, Obama was to be our version of Truman or Eisenhower — centrist competence, but spiced up with 21st-century postracial pizzazz.
The people took Obama at his word, and here we are a year later with the largest drop in popularity of a first-year president in poll-taking history. A clear majority of the country is now opposed to almost all of the Obama program — more stimuli, bailouts, deficits, and takeovers; statist health care; cap-and-trade; and therapeutic-apology/reset-button diplomacy abroad.
I think it is a fair generalization to say that both the Right and the Left agree that Obama ran as a moderate in order to move America sharply to the left. The former calls it perfidy; the latter, necessary politics to achieve the desired ends. So what we now have is a progressive, grass-roots populist who is doing his best to obfuscate his own goals and ignore the desires of the great majority of the people.
BREAD AND CIRCUSES
Despite his obfuscation, the American people are starting to see a common thread in almost everything Obama does, from the significant to the trivial. The purpose of health-care reform was not really to lower medical costs and broaden access. The current system could have been tweaked to do just that with more intrastate insurance competition, tax credits, modest state grants, and tort reform.
Instead, the real aim was to create a vast new trillion-dollar bureaucracy, staffed by hundreds of thousands of new government auditors and clerks, and necessitating new redistributive taxes to pay for it. The more numerous such government workers, the more plentiful the loyal constituents who receive and hand out more government entitlements — look at the public-employee unions, higher taxes, and resulting financial implosion in California. And the more the “good” people receive, the more the other, “bad” people must pay — and that way we can remedy the unfair and arbitrary nature of individual compensation.
Cap-and-trade proposals are similar. We could have had an honest debate on both the nature of climate change and the catalysts for it. The public could have been apprised by our leaders about the Climategate scandal. Concerns could have been aired about the disturbing conflict-of-interest pattern of international green advocates like Al Gore, who are increasingly combining doomsday sermonizing with old-style multimillion-dollar profit-making. The trade-off of higher carbon taxes in a recessionary economy should have been explored.