Sunday, January 24, 2010

Gut check time for the Democrats

Between the election of Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate, the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, and (in North Carolina) the 51-count indictment of former Gov. Mike Easley's top aide Ruffin Poole, this week Democrats, especially those loyal to the Obama adminstration's leftward agenda, have absorbed a barrage of body shots.

So far, we see little indication that these blows have made an impression. On the Sunday talk shows, Obama spokespeople contend that nothing has changed, and that any voter anger from Massachusetts was expressed by those angry at Congress for not more quickly abandoning 230 years of (mostly) limited, constitutional government and transform the United States into an unapologetic social democracy.

Really? I wonder how much longer skittish Dems are going to drink this Kool-aid.

Michael Goodwin in The New York Post nailed the challenges Obama partisans face in a few, devastating paragraphs:

Massachusetts changed everything. America's spirit of independence has been emancipated and the cult of Obama-ism is finished.

The health-care debacle perfectly captured his utter lack of governing substance.

He embraced major provisions he rejected during the campaign, misled the public about costs and impact, and got competing versions through Congress only with a grab bag of outlandish bribes and exemptions.

He pledged transparency, then retreated to secret deal-making that corruptly rewarded unions and fleeced everybody else. The result was a national scandal that would have done tremendous damage if it became law.

His sudden adoption of a bank tax springs from a baser motive -- political desperation.

He unveiled the tax as polls showed Scott Brown closing in on victory. White House flunkies said the tax marked an aggressive turn to populism and Obama obliged by trotting out the "fat-cat banker" phrase.

Which, of course, is bizarre when you want those banks to lend money to create jobs. And you can be sure Obama will hit up those fat-cat bankers for contributions at election time, as he did in 2008. Even his attacks are cynical.

His foreign policy is a dangerous muddle. He is feckless about both Iran's brave dissidents and the mullahs pushing for nuclear weapons.


The talk in Washington is that he look to Bill Clinton's presidency for comeback answers, or maybe Ronald Reagan's. Political history won't help him much.

Obama's crisis is personal. The inner hollowness and facile talent that propelled his rise gave him none of the grit necessary to meet the challenges. Where would he begin?

Maybe the events of the past weeks and months will make little difference to the faithful. I recall a social event I attended in the summer with several friends on the political left. We rarely talk politics, but I made a new acquaintance there, and when he asked me what I did and I said I work for a public-policy organization that advocates free-market positions, he incredulouly asked, "Why?" As if a single election had repudiated centuries of political thought -- including the principles that led to the founding of our nation.

I think people on the left (and the right, for that matter) can tend to hang out too much among their own and not reflect on why they believe as they do -- or at least understand how to articulate their vision comfortably in a civil way that tries to persuade gently rather than browbeat or preach.

Back to the present. I have no idea if the Democrats will somehow jam through a health care bill; maybe they'll pare back their ambitions and offer something that can appeal to enough squishy Republicans for passage. Maybe a reconciliation ploy would get through the Senate.

But if people on the left fail to take this week's happenings as an opportunity to (at a minimum) check their premises, there may be plenty more disappointments in their future.