The Campaign Spot

Starting January 20, The Ball Is In Obama’s Court

From an NRO piece I wrote a few months ago, “If He Wins”…

One of the reasons that Republicans were shellacked at the polls in 2006 was that all of their failures were prominent and fresh in voters’ minds: casualties in Iraq with no sign of stable government taking root, Katrina devastating New Orleans, Jack Abramoff’s ties to too many lawmakers. Some of the scandals would have seemed unrealistic and clichéd had they in a novel –  Mark Foley soliciting house pages, the FBI raiding Curt Weldon’s home; Don Sherwood facing allegations of choking his mistress.

Vast swaths of the voting public have little or no memory of Democratic failures. The last time that party controlled the presidency and two houses, they passed the biggest tax increase in history; failed to pass health care; failed to reform welfare; U.S. troops had been pulled out of Somalia in the face of a foe that resembled extras from Mad Max and the arsenal of democracy’s attention was focused on Haiti, of all places. The Clinton administration reached farce when the surgeon general declared she wanted to teach teenage boys how to masturbate in classrooms, and in the perfect symbol of a world gone off the rails, the World Series was cancelled.

But people forget about yesterday’s problems. And as they focus on the problems of today and the majority party’s failure to fix them, they get more sympathetic to the other guys.

And since 1994, Democrats have been able to say, “our ideas would work perfectly, if we could just get it past those obstructionists standing in our way!” Their ads have chanted it, their cheerleaders in the media have echoed it, and their base fervently believes it. It’s ironic that next to nothing on their policy agenda is new or different from the last time they ran the executive and legislative branch – the government can institute a health care system that will take care of everyone and all the costs can be covered by higher taxes on the rich; industry is polluting the earth and we can solve it by taxing carbon; we’ll stop Republicans from destroying Social Security; we can expand the good work of volunteerism by throwing massive amounts of federal funds at those programs. Many of them still believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that gun ownership is the cause of crime instead of part of the solution…

Will President Obama really have all combat troops out of Iraq in sixteen months? In May 2010, we’ll know whether Obama broke the signature promise of his campaign, whether he pursued the policy and the consequences were dire, or whether he pursued the policy and Iraq turned out fine. Will it be better or worse than today’s post-surge general stability? What will returning Iraq veterans say? What will General David Petraeus say?

Will Obama truly meet, without preconditions, with the rules of North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Syria and Iran in his first year? Or will history remember that comment at the YouTube debate as the future president just telling Democratic primary voters what they wanted to hear? If he does, how do you think that first meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad goes? Think he makes concessions to President Obama?

Do you think Putin’s puppet Medvedev will take it easy on the new kid?

Where do you think the markets will perform when Obama raises the capital gains tax? How much capital will seek a kinder tax environment? When top effective marginal tax rates start hitting 50 percent, how many of America’s wealthiest will decide to emigrate?

We won’t see any significant offshore drilling under a president Obama.  What do you think the price of a gallon of gasoline will be in the summer of 2009? 2010? How do you think that will affect the economy as a whole?

The Left will score some major victories in the first years of an Obama administration: Card check, ensuring that voices of opposition within unions are quashed. They’ll probably pass some version of the Fairness Doctrine, although many ordinary Americans might wonder why talk radio alone requires the government to step in and set content requirements. They’ll hike taxes, obviously, and as my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru has noted, the real trouble comes from a nationalized health care system. Once created, those programs are nearly impossible to repeal, and the public always buys the argument that they’re underfunded, no matter how poorly they’re managed.

But the last time the Democrats had control of the White House, the House, and Senate, they triggered the  Republican Revolution of 1994. It’s entirely possible — likely — that by 2010, the Democrats will have overstepped the sensibilities of the American people. What will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? “Truth commissions” investigating the Bush years? Government-managed lists of “Patriotic Corporations”? Obama’s call for driver’s licenses to be offered to illegal immigrants?

Will Americans feel better when the First Lady assures them that all of this is part of the process of “healing our souls”?

A Republican comeback will require two elements. The first part will be provided by Democrats themselves – examples that their ideas don’t work as well in reality as they sound on the campaign trail. The second part will be innovative Republican solutions that effectively address the worries that are foremost on voters’ minds.

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