Dream up a gargantuan backlash against Barack Obama’s left-wing gospel, and you still could not invent the notion of a relatively unknown, conservative Scott Brown knocking off an Obama-endorsed, liberal, female attorney in liberal Massachusetts — in a race to fill the seat once held by Ted Kennedy.
If a liberal senatorial candidate can be defeated in Massachusetts, eleven months after the Obama hope-and-change blitzkrieg, it is hard to believe that any liberal seat is necessarily safe anywhere.
So the real story is not a populist backlash, but a growing populist backlash, whose ultimate nature and magnitude are as yet unknown. What’s going on?
Voters are sick and tired of a terrible year of big spending and big deficits — especially the sight of Obama and his congressional allies almost daily talking breezily about spending what we do not have.
Voters went for the hope-and-change Obama in part because he promised fiscal sobriety after the Bush $500 billion deficit. Instead, in utterly cynical fashion, Obama trumped that red ink four times over. In the process, he developed a terrible habit of promising favored constituencies a hundred billion here, a hundred billion there as if it were all paper money — rather than real borrowed currency that will have to be confiscated in the future from the beleaguered taxpayer. It only makes it worse that the more the administration borrowed, printed, and spent, the higher unemployment rose and the lower economic activity plummeted.
Most have had enough of pie-in-the-sky talk of massive new health-care entitlements, cap-and-trade taxes and regulation, more stimulus, and more takeovers of private enterprise. The country is broke and the people want to pay off, not incur more, crushing debt. What got us into the mess was too much borrowing, skyrocketing debt, and reckless spending — not too many balanced budgets and too much lean government.
PROPHETS CAN’T MISLEAD?
No politician quite gets a pass for deception and prevarication. Obama in his narcissism thought his sonorous rhetoric made him exempt from a “read my lips” or “I didn’t have sex with that woman” moment. It didn’t.
People heard his serial promises about airing the health-care debate on C-SPAN, his new-transparency/no-lobbyist vows, and his monotonous boasts to close down Guantanamo within a year. All that is now “inoperative.” The problem was not just that Obama made promises that he broke, but that he made them so frequently and so vehemently — and so cavalierly broke them. That brazen campaign deception is problematic for a politician, but proves fatal for a self-appointed messiah.
A CESSATION OF CORRUPTION
We went from a Republican “culture of corruption” to a liberal cesspool of corruption. Sen. Chris Dodd lectures Wall Street while he gets sweetheart loans and vacation-home deals. Few could make up a story that the nation’s top tax lawmaker, House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, is a tax dodger, and the nation’s top tax enforcer, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, is an even more egregious tax dodger. When the Democratic Senate leadership started buying health-care votes at $300 million a clip, our Congress became little more than the praetorian guard, auctioning off its support to any wannabe late Roman emperor. The idea of a muckraking Obama nominating Tom Daschle as his Health Secretary — the liberal populist who skips out of thousands of dollars in taxes on his free corporate limousine service — was the stuff of satire.
BUSH REALLY, REALLY, REALLY DID DO IT
No one likes a serial whiner. It has been a year now — and Obama still blames George W. Bush ad nauseam. He did it in Massachusetts again — and on the eve of the election, no less. Blaming the past for the mistakes of the present gets old quickly. And when one adds in the constant What’s the Matter With Kansas? brand of condescension about naïve yokels not knowing what’s good for them, it gets even worse.
Yet Obama still pontificates that angry deluded voters will “suddenly” come to appreciate how he rammed health care down their otherwise ignorant throats: “The American people will suddenly learn that this bill does things they like and doesn’t do things that people have been trying to say it does. . . . The worst fears will prove groundless. And the American people’s hope for a fair shake from their insurance companies — for quality, affordable health care they need — will finally be realized.”
Good luck with that, O philosopher king!
WALL STREET POPULISTS
Elite liberals are not good class warriors. Factor in multi-millionaire Nancy Pelosi’s government mega-jet or Barack Obama’s various overseas junkets or the big Wall Street money that went into Obama’s near billion-dollar campaign coffers, and it is hard to take seriously Obama’s constant war against “them.” The voters have figured out that their president likes the elite plutocracy and the lower middle classes, but not so much the wannabe rich who aspire to cross his hated $250,000 income threshold — at which point suddenly they become unpatriotic, unwilling to pay their fair shares, and reluctant to spread the wealth around.
It is not particularly smart to constantly demonize the entrepreneurial classes, promise to raise income, payroll, health-care, and inheritance taxes on them, and expand government regulations — and then wonder why they are not creating more jobs.
Devotees turn on false prophets with a special vengeance. Obama is beginning to grate. His flip-the-switch-on, evangelical cadences at rallies sound more like a Harvard nerd doing blues imitations than Martin Luther King Jr. Purple-state presidents don’t appoint Van Joneses and Anita Dunns, or turn the NEA into a quid pro quo Ministry of Approved Culture. A healer doesn’t start in on the “rich,” “Wall Street,” the “big” oil companies, drug companies, insurance companies, or “fat-cat bankers” — especially when he has done his best to shake them all down for campaign money, hire as many of them as he can in his own administration, and arrange cut-rate loans, insider deals, bailouts, and guarantees for all of them.
Obama’s populism is beginning to sound more like a bought boxer who belatedly has second thoughts about throwing the fight he previously contracted. In short, Obama’s ideological presidency hinged on his post-racial, post-national mesmerizing presence that reassured reluctant Democrats to vote against their local constituencies.
If cap-and-trade or health care reform polled below 50 percent, a worried congressional supporter could always call in Him to charm bolting voters. But now? We have in a blink gone from Obama as the bankable 10 percent edge, to Obama as a non-factor, to Obama as a real liability. In short, why vote for an agenda as unpopular as its albatross author?
LIKED BY ALL, RESPECTED BY NONE
Obama thought the antidote to “smoke ’em out,” “dead or alive,” and “bring ’em on” braggadocio was bowing to the Saudis, promulgating new and undiscovered great moments in Islamic history, and reaching out to Ahmadinejad as he rounded up and beat down reformers in the streets of Tehran.
It’s one thing to accuse Bush of shredding the Constitution, quite another to adopt his anti-terrorism protocols like tribunals, renditions, Predators, intercepts, and wiretaps. Somehow Obama offended his base by such duplicity, and then his opposition by his tokenism of trashing Bush, promising the architect of 9/11 a show trial a few blocks from the former World Trade Center, and using touchy-feely euphemisms to suggest we are not in a war against terrorism emanating from the radical Islamic world.
Ahmadinejad, Assad, Chávez, the Castro Brothers, Putin, and others for the first six months liked us as much as they had little respect for our sycophancy; now they openly show contempt. We accept that obsequiousness cannot earn respect, but it apparently cannot earn affection either.
The best thing that could happen to Barack Obama is more Democratic losses in hodgepodge elections that might yank away our young transfixed Narcissus from his mesmerizing reflecting pool.
Almost immediately after Obama showed his ideological cards last spring, I suggested in the first weeks of his presidency that the bait-and-switch president would soon face a Carter/Clinton moment in which he could either press on with his polarizing ideology, damage his party for a generation, and eventually end up churlish and sneering at the electorate, who did not appreciate his exalted morality and genius — or triangulate and follow the Dick Morris/Bill Clinton model of talking and acting sort of centrist.
Who knows after Obama’s Scott Brown moment? We now may hear once again the old “no more Red State/Blue State” tropes, the stale campaign promises of presidential vetoes, claims of financial sobriety, the return of a “war on terror,” and smaller government
We’re either down to all that — or Obama’s more principled road to perdition.
– NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.