The Corner

Anatomy of Democratic Angst over Obama

Strange indeed is the sudden Democratic furor at Barack Obama. In fairness to the president, though, much of it seems to be a matter of scapegoating.

On the domestic front, for example, we forget that Obama “went big” on the stimulus, giving a number of speeches about the “historic” size of his “investments” and why we should not worry about the timid naysayers. At the time, he was widely praised for his audacity. He also went big on Obamacare, despite worries from party centrists. Again, he was praised for forcing through such a radically new program. In other words, few Democrats have tried so eagerly to advance the liberal domestic agenda. His appointments, the politics at the Department of Justice and the EPA, and his use of executive fiat to circumvent bothersome laws bear that out. 

If Obama were enjoying a 60 percent approval rating and the economy were humming at 5 percent annual growth and 5 percent unemployment, the Democrats would be singing his praises despite his stumbles. The problem Obama poses to Democrats is not his policy but his popularity — in their ‘what-if’ minds, he is sinking because he did not do enough rather than far too much.

In other words, the furor comes not so much because he has embarrassed them on national security and seems increasingly detached from the job, but because that he nearly destroyed the congressional Democrats in 2010, often hovers below 40 percent in popularity, and has the potential to really do some big-time damage to the party in 2012.

But again, why is that? Rather than suddenly blaming Obama, self-introspection seems in order:

1) Why and how did an obviously inexperienced senator, with no record of past achievement, soar past a gritty and hard-working Hillary Clinton, who, with her husband, would have brought years of political savvy and success to the presidency?

2) Why did Barack Obama for years embrace and then as president reject the liberal critique of the War on Terror? Is there some chance that he, and millions of his adherents, saw it as politically opportune to embrace it when running for president, but essential to national security to abandon it when invested with the responsibilities of the presidency? If Obama was so wrong to flip on national security, where are Cindy Sheehan, Moveon.org, Code Pink, Michael Moore, Sean Penn, and the Hollywood set?

3) Isn’t it possible that both the 2010 midterm disaster and the president’s current dismal polling are precisely because of his Keynesian policies (massive federal spending, record new debt, new regulations, and expansion of near-zero-interest money), which delighted many at their inception but have since disappointed most after their enactment? Blaming too much on not enough is an old logical fallacy.

Yes, Obama is inept politically, at least so far. But for many Americans that was clear years ago, and to be expected of any candidate with so little experience and, upon careful examination, so little record of actual business, legislative, or academic achievement. But remember, for all the jokes about his teleprompted eloquence and canned monotonous speeches, it is not all that easy to be eloquent on a teleprompter, and what now sounds trite, canned, and predictable, just three years ago brought paramedics to fainting audiences. The problem is not just Obama, but his rigid adherence to a statist economy that has terrified capital-laden employers into near complete stasis. 

Were Obama to show the same flexibility on the economy as he has on the War on Terror (junk the Keynesian model, radically revise and simplify the tax code, address entitlements, talk up employers, prune regulations, and compromise on spending cuts), he still might revitalize the economy a bit — it’s hard to destroy the greatest economy in history in three years. Then, when his numbers improved, he would win Democratic adulation for his Clinton-like savvy.

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