Commentary Magazine


After a Year: The Conservative Revival

We knew it wouldn’t last. We just didn’t know it would happen so fast. That’s what conservatives are saying, having survived and indeed flourished in the first year of the Obama presidency. If Obama was going to govern as the ultra-liberal they believed he was, conservatives assumed that sooner or later the American people would catch on. Believing that Americans are generally right of center and instilled with a healthy skepticism about big government, conservatives reassured themselves that there would be a great awakening of sorts when the mask fell and Obama revealed his true political stripes. But few thought it would happen quite so soon.

As Charles Krauthammer writes:

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.

It was because Obama chose to govern (or rather tried to govern) from the far Left — and attempted to do so much and do it more quickly than anyone would have expected — that the reaction has been so swift and fierce. (Or as Krauthammer sums up: ”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.”)

Perhaps conservatives didn’t give the American public enough credit. Or maybe they underestimated the ferocity of Obama’s liberalism and were therefore blindsided by the swift blowback. But however unexpected the pace, the result should not surprise conservatives. The power of experience — the experience of living under liberal, one-party rule — has revived conservatives’ fortunes and reinvigorated ordinary citizens to push back against a president who thought Americans were ripe for a revolution. It turns out they were — just not the one Obama had in mind.