I won’t spoil the very clever fictional construct that David Brooks uses to make his point in today’s column, but his conclusion bears repeating:
Surveys showed public opinion drifting rightward on issue after issue: gun control, abortion, global warming and the role of government. Far from leading Americans, Democrats were repelling them. Between 2008 and 2010 the share of voters who considered the Democrats too liberal surged from 39 percent to 49 percent, according to Gallup surveys.
Prospects for the 2010 election are grim. Election guru Charlie Cook suspects the G.O.P. will retake the House. N.P.R. polled voters in the 60 most competitive House districts currently held by Democrats. Democrats trail Republicans in those districts, on average, by 5 percentage points. Independent voters in the districts favor Republicans by an average of 18 percentage points.
By 57 percent to 37 percent, voters in these districts embrace the proposition that “President Obama’s economic policies have run up a record federal deficit while failing to end the recession or slow the record pace of job losses.”
Instead of building faith in government, the events of 2009 and 2010 further undermined it. An absurdly low 6 percent of Americans acknowledge that the stimulus package created jobs, according to a New York Times/CBS survey.
I’ll quibble with “absurdly” if he means irrationally, but he’s accurate on the rest. And his warning is equally on point:
Some Kool-Aid sippers on the left say the problem is that Republicans have better messaging (somehow John Boehner became magically charismatic to independents). Others say the shift to the right is a product of bad economic times. … But the big story is that liberals have failed to create a governing center-left majority. If they can’t do it in circumstances like these, when will they ever?
There is a self-fulfilling quality to the left’s crack-up. The rush to the left and “never let a crisis go to waste” mentality was premised on the view that the window of opportunity to accomplish the liberal agenda was brief. But in piling on one big-government proposal after another, Obama actually shortened the window and gave rise to the conservative resurgence, which threatens to rip up the one significant “achievement” (ObamaCare) jammed through in the first half of his term. (Sigh, yes, the halfway mark is in sight.) Obama might have prolonged his window of opportunity, kept the conservatives at bay, and preserved many of his party’s seats. But that would have required compromise and moderation in pursuit of his desired remaking of the economy and vast expansion of the federal government.
It was the road not taken — the road many hopeful pundits, including Brooks, were convinced Obama would take. The president has proved to be a lot less moderate, a lot less politically savvy, and as a result, a lot less successful than his boosters had imagined. He was nevertheless an invaluable aid in discrediting liberal statism.