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Obama and the Big, Messy, Tough Democracy

As his term of office proceeded, his rhetoric turned increasingly testy. He told his political opponents they should shut up and pick up a mop. He advised people who wanted tax relief that he already provided it and they should be thanking him. In response to substantive objections, he asserted elections had consequences and he had won. He held few press conferences after the blowback from the one in which he told the Cambridge police they had acted stupidly in arresting his friend. He said those who refused to endorse his programs were simply standing around “sipping Slurpees.” He lectured Congress to eat its peas and turn in its work, just like his daughters did with their homework.

On the left, his supporters searched for an explanation for how Obama had become the sort-of-God that failed. On the front page of its “Sunday Review” section, the New York Times published a 3,300 word opinion essay by an Emory University professor of psychology (and “messaging consultant”) venturing five “hypotheses” about what happened to Obama: (1) he had “succumbed” to a belief that electoral success requires “centrist” politicians; (2) he was “simply not up to the task,” having had no experience and few accomplishments before running for president; (3) he doesn’t know what he believes, or will change his beliefs to whatever he thinks he needs for re-election; (4) he has been corrupted by the system; and (5) he ran for president on two platforms (reformer and unity candidate) that contradicted each other.

Put a little more concisely, the professor’s theories were that Obama was unqualified, corrupt, had no core beliefs, ran for president on contradictory promises, and succumbed to centrism. The New York Times effectively endorsed those views by putting them on the front page of its Sunday opinion section, which Paul Krugman and other liberal priests promptly seconded.

The right never believed in Obama; the left has been increasingly disabused of its belief; independents oppose him by lopsided margins. The percentage of likely voters who do not simply “disapprove” but “strongly disapprove” of him requires a chart to fully appreciate. The things he could do to improve his electoral chances next year are things he cannot do: (a) bring in a new team of economic advisers not invested in the failed philosophy of borrow, spend, and tax; (b) repeal ObamaCare, which hovers over every employer contemplating a new employee and includes a huge tax increase on investment income to take effect after the next election; and (c) adopt an “all-of-the-above” energy policy to replace the endless blather about “green” jobs.

After his 1994 shellacking, Bill Clinton abandoned HillaryCare, adopted Republican ideas on welfare reform, and reduced the capital gains tax, producing an economic surge and restoring his popularity in time for the 1996 election against a lackluster Republican opponent. This is not a strategy Obama can likely emulate, and next year no one will faint at his rallies; no tingle will go up the leg of a TV pundit; no New York Times columnist will project presidential greatness from the crease in his pants. He will have to run on a record, rather than rhetoric.

The big, messy, tough democracy will have its say, having repeatedly tried to send him a message in multiple elections and recurring opinion polls. Only a lackluster Republican nominee can save him now.