by Victor Davis Hanson
I think Barack Obama will soon dip below a 40% approval rating. He’s nearing there now.
Why? A mixture of both the personal and political. Here are five good reasons:
1) A bad agenda. Nearly every issue the president embraces polls against him, often at a 3-1 margin. Cap and trade, amnesty, state-run healthcare, more bailouts, takeovers, deficits, taxes, and the national debt. His vision is the same as that of the EU circa 1990 — one that even Europe now rejects as a failure.
The answer to every challenge is to found a new program, borrow billions to run it, hire millions more loyal to the progressive gospel of public employment, and demagogue any who oppose it. The public is starting to see that the president’s ideology is really a mixture of the Ivy League, the left-wing of the Democratic Party, the tired canards of the black caucus, extremist residuals from Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers, and twenty years of university multicultural, utopian pacifist, and moral equivalent indoctrination. His Democratic Party is not one with half the House Democrats and does not appeal to liberal independents. He’s the sort of progressive professor whom the proverbial new student comes home at Thanksgiving to quote to a shocked parent..
Obama can no more adopt a centrist identity than Rev Wright could become a Billy Graham, or Jimmy Carter could pivot like Bill Clinton. Most House Democrats grasp that unwelcome truth and so mightily fear his presence in their districts.
2) Anything, anytime. The president does not conduct himself in a sober and judicious manner and neither do those around him. On any given day he can slur Arizonans as wanting to round up innocents on the way to ice cream. He can slander police as stupidly acting stereotypers. The attorney general can call us cowards and swear without reading a bill that it profiles the innocent. Legitimate worry over a Ground Zero mosque translates into anti-constitutional efforts to stifle freedom of worship. Those with money — defined by an arbitrary annual income level of $250,000 — owe the rest of us their ill-gotten gains. Surgeons transmogrify into tonsil-loppers, insurers are greedy, investors are put back at the end of the creditor line; all are worthy of a boot on their necks and a kick in the ass.
The first lady can likewise say anything at anytime that would earn about a 10% approval rating. “Deign to run,” “raise the bar,” “never been proud before,” “downright mean country,” and all that have gone somnolent only because of a fleeting January 2009 70% approval rating. When polls hits 40%, expect the 2008 tropes to return. The result won’t be pretty. Bush was stoic and philosophical at 38% after six years; the aggrieved Obamas will not be after two.
3) There is no eloquence, period. Part is the fault of the worst speech-writing team in modern presidential memory. They make the most elemental of errors, whether turning Cordoba into a beacon of Islamic tolerance during the Inquisition or claiming “Mexicans” were here in North America before Americans, well before the idea of the nation of Mexico existed.
The president himself suffers from three rhetorical liabilities. He simply cannot leave the teleprompter — even for a second. To do so means that “like a dog” petulance immediate spews forth. Second, the divergence from his sort of nerdy Harvard Law Review wonk-talk and his Rev. Wright black-church preaching is simply too wide to suggest that he is just modulating Hillary-like for audiences. Instead, the Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde deliveries infer not just patronizing, but something far more disturbing: Mr. Obama does not seem to know himself quite who he is.
Third, he cannot leave the campaign mode. So all his lectures are rehashes of hope-and-change, Bush did it, I, I, I, me, me, me, my, my, my — spiced with the now tedious “Let Me Be Perfectly Clear” and “Make No Mistake About It,” as if we are inattentive school children and he the headmaster at the front of the room clamoring for our attention. The result? He is overexposed to the point that eyes roll and backs turn when he drops his g’s and starts in on “they” and “them.”
4) His team is imploding. We heard all this fluff last year about “Team of Rivals” as if our new Lincoln was going to collect brilliant and ambitious contrarians, and by sheer force of brilliance brew administrative excellence. He never read anything other than Ms. Doris Kearns Goodwin apparently. Lincoln finally had to fire the duplicitous Chase and Cameron. Stanton was a loose cannon who slurred the Union hero Sherman. Half the Lincoln cabinet was trying to do him in during the dark days of August 1864, as Lincoln himself dumped his VP Hamlin and in desperation tried to find a military icon before settling on the so-so Johnson. Lincoln succeeded despite his errors in selecting such a witch’s brew, not because of it. Take away Sherman inside Atlanta in early September 1864, and have him end up instead bogged down in Georgia like Grant in Virginia — a wrecked army and no capture of a key enemy city — and Lincoln would have lost to McClellan.
Orszag, Summers, and Romer are going or have gone. Geithner will leave too. Emanuel will be out — and leak to the world that his pragmatic “genius” was rejected. The so-called centrists like Gates and Jones will leave soon, before the reckoning of a Carter 1979 year comes due. I doubt Hillary will stay unless there is a rebound back over 50%. The more Bill bites his lip in praise of Obama, the more we know what’s coming. All presidential teams implode at some point; few at so early a juncture and fewer with an entire economic team leaving in the midst of the chaos they helped to further.
5. Obama has been lucky but it won’t last. You say, “No, wait a minute! After all he inherited two wars and a near depression!” Not quite. His bad war he campaigned against is essentially over in Iraq, and was by the time he entered office. The good war he wanted in Afghanistan heated up when we turned our proverbial eye to it, largely because the president made it clear he did not wish to meet Stanley McChrystal for months, imposed artificial deadlines of withdrawal, and divided up responsibility between a feuding Gen. McChrystal, Amb. Eikenberry, and Richard Holbrook who apparently hated each other as much as they did the enemy.
The financial panic of September 15 was largely calm at the end of 120 days, and before Obama took office. The recession officially ended in June 2009. What then happened is that we took a deep downturn and turned it into something akin to European stasis by borrowing trillions more dollars and investing in redistributive schemes that destroyed incentives while terrifying entrepreneurs. In other words, had Obama done nothing, we would have been far better off as the natural cycles of recovery kicked in. But threaten business with higher taxes, more regulations, new health care mandates, energy surcharges, all the while conducting a psychological campaign against the morality of private enterprise, and you get the present push-back as banks, corporations, small businesses, and investors sit on trillions in cash, neither hiring nor spending until this Brussels bureaucrat leaves.
The usual narrative that Obama is a victim of circumstance is unfortunately not true. Aside from the fact that all presidents make their own destinies (Reagan’s inheritance from Carter was not good; nor were FDR’s, Truman’s, Eisenhower’s, Nixon’s, or Bush’s), Obama has had it about as bad or good as had others who entered the presidency. A recession and 9/11 were not easy in 2001. And 18% interest, 18% inflation, 7% unemployment, and gas lines by 1981 greeted Reagan. Truman took over with a war, a supposed friend Stalin turned enemy, allies soon to be enemies in Russia and China, and enemies in Japan and Germany soon to be rebuilt and rehabilitated — amid a wrecked Asia and Europe, a groundswell of communism, a climate of panic at home, and a soon to be nuclear Soviet Union under the genocidal murdering Stalin, capped off soon by a war in Korea.
What’s ahead? I am afraid a reckoning in world tensions: China-Japan, North-South Korea, Iran and its neighbors, another Mideast war, Russian expansionism, a crack-up in the EU — to be fair, not just because of Obama, but in part accelerated by the sense that Obama either does not care or tends to be more sympathetic to those who voice grievances such as his own against the U.S. than to our allies who traditionally give us the benefit of the doubt. There will be a lot of jostling as nations seek to make readjustments in the new climate of anything goes.
So, yes, Obama really can hit 40%. To preclude that I predict the most vicious midterm election in memory and some sort of October surprise abroad. Both will fail to arrest the decline.
The one-eyed Jack has been flipped over.
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson