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He Needs Some Serious Self-Reflection

Democratic veteran Ted Van Dyk does not like what he is seeing:

Frightened by the prospective costs of your health-care and energy plans — not to mention the bailouts of the financial and auto industries — independent voters who supported you in 2008 are falling away. FDR and LBJ, only two years after their 1932 and 1964 victories, saw their parties lose congressional seats even though their personal popularity remained stable. The party out of power traditionally gains seats in off-year elections, and 2010 is unlikely to be an exception.

Van Dyk thinks Obama has delegated too much power to Congress, is over-exposed, has over-promised, and has lost his high-minded tone. On the last point, he observes: “During your campaign, you called for bipartisanship and bridge-building. You promised to reduce the influence of single-issue and single-interest groups in the policy process. Yet, in your public statements, you keep using President Bush as a scapegoat.”

Van Dyk is right on a number of these tactical issues. But he overlooks the central problem with the Obama presidency: he over-estimated his ability to use his personal popularity and an economic crisis to pull the country to the Left. The country didn’t vote for a European welfare state. His mammoth spending plans and attempts to hugely expand government are meeting with skepticism. That is certainly the core of his problem. He’s pushing bad policy ideas to an unreceptive public.

But Van Dyk also is onto something about the atmospherics of the Obama presidency. This is not a man who has faced intense ideological criticism or practiced, as he instructed American Jewish leaders to do, “serious self-reflection.” He is certain of his liberal views, contemptuous of people who are stuck in “old thinking,” annoyed with even the minimal press criticism he receives and unpracticed in accommodation and negotiation with his political opponents. What was admired as a “cool temperament” in the campaign is now seen as remoteness or blindness to the realities that swirl around him. Yes, he’s perfectly stoic – in his utterly blindness to the ground-breaking events in Iran and his domestic economic failures. So calm! And stubborn, if not oblivious.

Can he adjust his policy and his personal governing style? He’ll have to if he wants to succeed. But that would take some recognition that the current path is, like his budget, “unsustainable” and that America has not become an ultra-liberal country. Unfortunately, he seems not inclined toward introspection. We can therefore expect, barring a political thumping in 2010, more of the same.


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