Politics & Policy

When the Dreaming Stopped

Obama voters are not happy people.

‘I expect to be judged by results. . . .  If stuff hasn’t worked and people don’t feel like I’ve led the country in the right direction, then you’ll have a new president.” 

Barack Obama may regret having said that at a stimulus pep rally in 2009.

“The party’s over, the smoke has cleared,” says Gerald from Iowa. Gerald, by the way, has “voted Democrat” his “entire life.”

“I’m a lifelong Democrat,” says Dorrie from Pennsylvania.

“My dad was a Democrat. My mother was a Democrat. I’ve converted my wife to a Democrat,” says Jack from Iowa.

“I voted for the wrong guy,” says Nancy, a Democrat from Ohio.

“As he would say, we’re ready for a change,” says Matthew, an independent from Virginia.

After hearing from 40 independents and Democrats from swing states, the new documentary The Hope and the Change ends with this question: “Can we go through another four years of this?” What would America look like after another four years of squandered opportunities for economic stewardship, and of leadership priorities driven by radical ideology contrary to the much-celebrated unifying tone Barack Obama rode into office on?

It’s a tragic story. A story of people who pinned their hopes and dreams on political rhetoric and have been left not just disappointed but despondent.

“If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now when he’s President Obama?” is how Mitt Romney introduced the case for himself at the Republican convention. “You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”

I don’t know how many Democrats and independents who voted for Barack Obama were watching, but Romney was looking to make his case to them, to people who have come to the conclusion that President Obama is a failed president, and who have come to that conclusion “more in sorrow than in anger,” as Stephen K. Bannon, director of The Hope and the Change, puts it.

“The president has not disappointed you because he wanted to,” Romney continued in his convention address. “The president has disappointed America because he hasn’t led America in the right direction. He took office without the basic qualification that most Americans have, and one that was essential to the task at hand. He had almost no experience working in a business. Jobs to him are about government.”

“When it comes to strengthening the middle class and enabling upward mobility,” Romney has subsequently said, “President Obama’s policies have failed.”

For the last week the media have focused on that surreptitiously taped video from the May fundraising event where the former governor attempted — inarticulately, as both he and his running mate have later said — to explain the ceiling he believed he had on those who would realistically consider him in November. Much of the commentary has accused him of being aloof at best to the struggles of a large segment of the country; he is being accused of being part of the problem he seeks to solve.

The Hope and the Change, which will be running on a dozen cable and broadcast networks through Election Day, tells the story of Americans who have stopped dreaming, the “5 to 6 or 7 percent” that Romney’s campaign, as he put it in those remarks in May, needs to connect with. They are voters who realize that a lack of “due diligence” elected Obama; the “euphoria” has stopped. The added economic uncertainty the president’s policies have brought on has rendered the traditional American forward- looking dreams foreign to the Obama voters Bannon interviewed. As Chad, a Democrat from Colorado, explains it: “If I would have just met my wife 15 years earlier, at that point in time, I was making enough money. I would have had the time and the money, she would not had to have worked, she could have spent all her time if she wanted to with our kids. I would have been able to do the weekend thing, the whole backyard barbecue American dream. But you don’t get that anymore. And instead, you fight and struggle.”

Rather than promising “to heal the planet,” Mitt Romney said at the Tampa convention, “my promise is to help you and your family.” And he provided an important philosophical background: “All the laws and legislation in the world will never heal this world like the loving hearts and arms of mothers and fathers. If every child could drift to sleep feeling wrapped in the love of their family — and God’s love — this world would be a far more gentle and better place.”

That’s reality. To help create an environment where families can flourish — this is at the heart of public service. This is what a president and a Congress can help with.

I had all of this in mind while at a dinner celebrating — and fundraising for — the Consortium of Catholic Academies, some of the poorest schools in the poorest areas of Washington, D.C. (These are schools, by the way, whose existence is threatened by the president’s insistence on rewriting our heretofore bipartisan understanding of religious liberty in America, insisting that health insurance for teachers at Sacred Heart or St. Anthony’s include coverage for abortion drugs, contraception, and sterilization.) “My dad’s from Nigeria,” Obi Mbanefo told those gathered; “he came to this country seeking a better future for his family.” A sophomore at Gonzaga College High School, Mbanefo wants to go to Ohio State or Princeton.

Young Mr. Mbanefo is getting a solid education because of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, which, despite its bipartisan support, President Obama had to be arm-twisted by Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senator Joseph Lieberman into reauthorizing. And this is a backyard issue for Obama. Perhaps client politics keeps the president from being able to look out the White House windows and see kids like Obi. But that’s not the ticket he rode into Washington on. Obama now believes that “you can’t change Washington from the inside.” Boehner and Lieberman provide a contrasting view, based on the lives of young people like Obi. It’s the dreams of his father — and a nation of formerly upward-looking citizens — that this election is about keeping alive.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association. She will be co-hosting Silent Radio on the Catholic Channel on Sirius XM Channel 129 with Stephen K. Bannon on weekends this fall.


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