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Will Obama Learn Anything from the Midterms?

Michael Gerson conducts a must-read interview with Charlie Cook. In addition to predictions of a massive GOP wave, there is this discussion about Obama and the Democratic agenda:

Question: What lessons should Obama’s aides take away from these likely political reverses?

“It was the political aides,” counters Cook, “who lost the arguments. Rahm [Emanuel] knew they should cut a deal on health care, get to the economy.” But Obama held a different view of himself and his presidency. “He had already been first at everything. He wanted to be something other than the first — to be historical, game-changing, to have grand influence like FDR or LBJ. But he missed out on the day job,” which was jobs and economic growth.

Some, Cook says, “are told all their lives that they are the most brilliant people on the planet. They don’t get less bright, but hubris kicks in. [Obama] just assumed that he was going to be a success, as he had always been in life.”

According to Cook, this reflects a lack of experience. “Experience is not an end, it is a means to an end: judgment.” Cook said that a few years in the Senate “don’t give an understanding of institutions and their dynamics. If [Obama] had been in the Senate six or eight years, he might have accumulated the wisdom to match the intelligence.”

That’s about as devastating a critique as you are going to get from a neutral observer. Obama’s arrogance got the better of him; he knew better than everyone and will now pay the price.

But there was more going on than simply picking the wrong agenda items or refusing to temper his own ego. Obama’s ideological rigidity and policy preferences ran headlong into Americans’ skepticism about big government and their sense of moral outrage. The Tea Party is a movement grounded in the belief in limited government. But it was also born out of a sense that we have lost track of fundamental values — thrift, discipline, and humility, for starters — and as a result are seeing irresponsible spending, massive debt, and liberal statism.

Obama did not listen to the health-care town-hall attendees or to the voters of New Jersey, Virginia, or Massachusetts. Why should he? He didn’t pay attention to more sober-minded aides, polls, or his own nervous congressional allies. His absolute certainty in his own vision combined with his lack of understanding of the American polity and substantive policy (from economics to the Middle East). As his poll ratings and party’s electoral prospects continue to dive, he reacts with annoyance at the rubes in America who fail to appreciate his brilliance. Will such a president actually reverse course after an election? I have my doubts.



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