Victor Davis Hanson wrote this weekend that “Obama very soon is going to have to make a tough choice, far tougher than his current ‘present’ votes on the option of sending additional troops to Afghanistan”:
As the midterm elections near, and his popularity bobs up and down around 50 percent, Obama can do one of two things.
He could imitate Bill Clinton’s 1995 Dick Morris remake. In Obama’s case, that would mean, abroad, cutting out the now laughable apologies for his country, ceasing to court thugs like Ahmadinejad, Chávez, and Putin, keeping some distance from the U.N., and paying closer attention to our allies like Britain and Israel. At home, he could declare victory on his sidetracked agenda and then start over by holding spending in line, curbing the deficit, stopping the lunatic Van Jones–style czar appointments, courting the opposition, and tabling cap-and-trade. I think there is very little chance of any of the above, whatever voters may have thought during the campaign.
Or, instead, Obama could hold the pedal to the floor on the theory that, as a proven ideologue, he must move the country far left before the voters catch on and stop him in his tracks in November 2010. That would mean more of the “gorge the beast” effort to spend and borrow so much that taxes have to soar, and thus redistribution of income will be institutionalized for a generation. He would push liberal proposals no matter how narrow the margin in the Senate. He would keep demonizing Fox News. In Nixonian fashion he might continue to hit the stump, ratcheting up his current “they’re lying” message and energizing his left-wing base by catering to the unions, gays, minorities — and liberal Wall Street special interests.
If he chooses the former, he might well be a more successful version of Bill Clinton given that his appetites are far more in check.
But if, as is likely, he chooses the latter, he will polarize the country in a way not seen since 1968, set back racial relations to the 1960s, do to the reputation of big government what LBJ did from 1964 to 1968, and, in the manner of what Jimmy Carter wrought, turn voters off liberal foreign policy for a generation.
And as Jennifer Rubin notes, the country is still very much a center-right one:
Gallup offers us this interesting survey information:
Conservatives continue to outnumber moderates and liberals in the American populace in 2009, confirming a finding that Gallup first noted in June. Forty percent of Americans describe their political views as conservative, 36% as moderate, and 20% as liberal. This marks a shift from 2005 through 2008, when moderates were tied with conservatives as the most prevalent group.
What is more, independent voters are tilting Right. (”The 35% of independents describing their views as conservative in 2009 is up from 29% in 2008.”) And on a host of issues, voters seems to be adopting a more conservative perspective. For example, the percentage who say there is too much government regulation of business and industry has gone up from 38 percent to 45 percent in the past year, and the percentages of those who want less power for labor unions and fewer restrictions on gun sales have also increased.
This raises a few serious issues for the White House and the Congress. First, as the Democratic-controlled government is racing to the Left, the country is moving Right. The latter may well be a backlash against the very policies pushed by the Obama team, and against those policies’ consequences (e.g., more debt, bigger government). And the decline in the approval rating of both the president and the Congress may well reflect the public’s aversion to their liberal agenda. Second, lawmakers can read the polls too, and at some point those who have been buffaloed into voting for liberal measures (e.g., cap-and-trade) for the sake of party unity will resist further entreaties to cast votes at odds with the voters’ tilt. Third, the notion that the country’s political center was shifted and reset in 2008 apparently was just wishful thinking. Remember that Obama ran a campaign drenched in moderate rhetoric and that he rejected key positions that he has now embraced (e.g., taxes on those making less than $250,000). This suggests he was able to win precisely because voters didn’t know what was really in store for them.
These voters see what a liberal congressional majority and president in fact have in mind, and the tension between the Democrats’ governing philosophy and the voters’ political philosophy will need to be resolved. Either elected officials will need to move Right or, more likely, the voters will select leaders whose political philosophy more closely resembles their own.