Obama holds to liberal side, thinks he is in middle
Not only has Obama made it easier for McConnell to hold his team together, he has made it easier for Republican candidates to defeat Democrats. What he is demonstrating is that the only way to stop him is to defeat Democrats. Giving more people the joy of voting against Democrats is a gift the Republicans will embrace. Voters may not like Republicans but they like Democrats even less.
President Obama’s greatest need is to escape the ideological grip of congressional Democrats and the liberal base of the Democratic party (they’re one and the same). But he either doesn’t recognize this or, as a conventional liberal himself, isn’t so inclined. This self-inflicted difficulty has put Obama in worse political straits than President Clinton faced after the Republican landslide of 1994.
Certainly there was nothing in Obama’s State of the Union address last week to indicate he understands the fix he’s in or has devised a credible way to get out of it. His message, though he didn’t put it in quite these words, was that he’d rather fight for unpopular liberal policies than switch to broadly appealing centrist ones.
A bad omen for Obama and Democrats was the pleased-as-punch response of Capitol Hill’s top Republican, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “It makes my job a little easier than if he were moving to the middle and picking up people,” McConnell says. “I naïvely thought he was going to do a course correction.”
McConnell characterizes the Obama strategy as: “Ignore the public, we know what’s best, full speed ahead.” The practical effect is to yield the political high ground to Republicans. “He can call us the party of no till he’s blue in the face,” McConnell says. “It depends on what you’re saying no to.”
At the core of Obama’s trouble is a misreading of the 2008 election. He and Democratic liberals interpreted it as a mandate for an era of liberal lawmaking and governance in a newly minted center-left America. And they set out to create that era with sweeping initiatives on health care, energy and the environment, and the economy.
They were wrong, as everyone but the most unswerving or fogbound liberal now understands. America is a center-right country politically and has been for decades. Pushing a liberal agenda for a year has cost Obama dearly. His public approval has fallen at a record rate (for a first-year president), and so has support for his policies.
Let’s give Obama credit for intellectual honesty. He believes in his agenda. Speaking at a House Republican retreat in Baltimore last week, Obama insisted, “I am not an ideologue.” But he sure can pass for one. And despite his travails, Obama brims with self-confidence. He told Democrat Marion Berry of Arkansas, a seven-term House member, that Democrats today have a unique advantage they lacked in 1994—“me.” Berry doesn’t agree. He’s retiring.