A year ago, conservatism was given its last rites by a gloating media as the anointed One ascended to his rightful place, promising to usher in decades of Democratic rule. The fantasy survived beyond the first day, but not the first year. The why is simple. Obama was elected with a mandate to stabilize our economy and protect our nation. Instead, he has injected fear and uncertainty into both our economy and into our national security. He has, as Charles Krauthammer points out, governed as a left wing ideologue. This from Mr. Krauthammer:
What went wrong? A year ago, he was king of the world. Now President Obama's approval rating, according to CBS, has dropped to 46 percent -- and his disapproval rating is the highest ever recorded by Gallup at the beginning of an (elected) president's second year.
A year ago, he was leader of a liberal ascendancy that would last 40 years (James Carville). A year ago, conservatism was dead (Sam Tanenhaus). Now the race to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in bluest of blue Massachusetts is surprisingly close, with a virtually unknown state senator bursting on the scene by turning the election into a mini-referendum on Obama and his agenda, most particularly health care reform. . . .
The reason for today's vast discontent, presaged by spontaneous national Tea Party opposition, is not that Obama is too cool or compliant but that he's too left.
It's not about style; it's about substance. About which Obama has been admirably candid. This out-of-nowhere, least-known of presidents dropped the veil most dramatically in the single most important political event of 2009, his Feb. 24 first address to Congress. With remarkable political honesty and courage, Obama unveiled the most radical (in American terms) ideological agenda since the New Deal: the fundamental restructuring of three pillars of American society -- health care, education and energy.
Then began the descent . . .
In the end, what matters is not the persona but the agenda. In a country where politics is fought between the 40-yard lines, Obama has insisted on pushing hard for the 30. And the American people -- disorganized and unled but nonetheless agitated and mobilized -- have put up a stout defense somewhere just left of midfield.
Ideas matter. Legislative proposals matter. Slick campaigns and dazzling speeches can work for a while, but the magic always wears off.
It's inherently risky for any charismatic politician to legislate. To act is to choose and to choose is to disappoint the expectations of many who had poured their hopes into the empty vessel -- of which candidate Obama was the greatest representative in recent American political history.
Obama did not just act, however. He acted ideologically. To his credit, Obama didn't just come to Washington to be someone. Like Reagan, he came to Washington to do something -- to introduce a powerful social democratic stream into America's deeply and historically individualist polity.
Perhaps Obama thought he'd been sent to the White House to do just that. If so, he vastly over-read his mandate. His own electoral success -- twinned with handy victories and large majorities in both houses of Congress -- was a referendum on his predecessor's governance and the post-Lehman financial collapse. It was not an endorsement of European-style social democracy.
Hence the resistance. Hence the fall. The system may not always work, but it does take its revenge.
And of course, what has made this reality crystal clear is Republican, Scott Brown. Brown, having run for Ted Kennedy's ancestral senate seat and made the election a referendum on national politics, stands poised to make a real run at it in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1. This should have been a walk-over for the Democrats. It is now, of course, anything but. Some polls put Brown ahead in the race - and the polls are apparently close enough to reality that Clinton cut short his work in Haiti to come to Massachusetts and Obama is set to follow on Sunday. Even if Brown loses, a message has already been sent to the left. But if Brown wins, it will be far more than a message, it will be the first day of the apocalypse for the Democrats.