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How Does a Leftist Govern America?

Voters might not have put Obama in the White House had they known last year what they know now.

by
Jennifer Rubin

Bio

August 2, 2009 - 12:00 am

Among the many poll figures to rock the Obama team in the last week or so, none may be as telling or as significant as this from Rasmussen:

Seventy-six percent (76%) of U.S. voters now think President Obama is at least somewhat liberal. Forty-eight percent (48%) say he is very liberal, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. This marks the highest finding to date on the question and is a five-point increase in the number who say the president is very liberal from a month ago. … Seventeen percent (17%) of voters say the president is moderate, while only six percent (6%) believe he is conservative.

This was not the image that enabled Obama to win the presidency. Last year he beat John McCain by somehow convincing the public that he was the moderate, the fiscally prudent one, and the voice of “pragmatism” — that catchphrase meant to assure voters the candidate is not an ideologically crazed extremist.

It was a good thing Obama ran that way. Exit polling showed that the electorate self-identified as 44% moderate, 34% conservative, and 22% liberal. Obama was right to recognize that the public simply wouldn’t have embraced an ultra-liberal planning a huge spending spree, a government takeover of health care and a massive energy tax and regulatory scheme. In other words, if voters knew what they know now they might not have put him in the White House.

And that is the fundamental problem which Obama now faces. Just as he possessed the most liberal voting record in the Senate (populated by some awfully liberal senators), he has chosen to govern farther to the left than any president since LBJ. So it is not surprising that the public is reeling and registering their disapproval in poll after poll.

The Obama team, which more so than most new administrations was convinced of their own political omnipotence, must be stunned as they discover in their march leftward that the public remains far behind — and to the right. Indeed, in what can be seen as an act of political contrariness, the public is getting more conservative as the Obama presidency unfolds.

The tension is palpable between where Obama wants to govern and where the voters are. Obama keeps insisting on legislation — nationalized health care being the most obvious — which the public really doesn’t want or need. Like an aluminum siding salesman, he keeps hawking expensive junk, and like a wary homeowner, the public would rather he get out of their living rooms.

As Karl Rove explained, Obama’s fetish for big government has led him to embrace a health care reform that in essence missed the public:

Mr. Obama’s problem is that nine out of 10 Americans would likely get worse health care if ObamaCare goes through. Of those who do not have insurance — and who therefore might be better off — approximately one-fifth are illegal aliens, nearly three-fifths make $50,000 or more a year and can afford insurance, and just under a third are probably eligible for Medicaid or other government programs already.

For the slice of the uninsured that is left — perhaps about 2% of all American citizens — Team Obama would dismantle the world’s greatest health care system. That’s a losing proposition, which is why Mr. Obama is increasingly resorting to fear and misleading claims. It’s all the candidate of hope has left.

And it has missed his own party as well — sending Blue Dogs to howl in protest.

First on the stimulus plan, then on cap and trade, and now on health care Obama has overreached and misread the public’s appetite for big government and big tax increases. The more he sells, the less comfortable the public feels with the cumulative effect of his very liberal agenda.

The easy solution, you might think, is to veer toward the center. But Obama has never embraced a centrist agenda or sensibility except on the campaign trail. He may have no interest in repeating the incrementalism that characterized the Clinton years.

And then there is the liberal Congress, which certainly doesn’t want, in their moment of greatest glory, to retreat from the agenda built up over many years in the political wilderness. Now is their moment to jam whatever they can through.

In sum, the gaps between candidate Obama and President Obama and between Obama and the American people are not likely to be narrowed anytime soon. Politicians are not given to introspection or concessions except under extreme duress. It may therefore take another election to deprive liberals of a governing majority in Congress and to deliver a wake-up call to the White House. Only then might a very liberal president govern effectively in a center-right country.

Jennifer Rubin blogs at the Washington Post.
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