In his column Charlie Cook writes, “Many Democrats seem to take solace in the idea that stubbornly high unemployment and the terrible economy are to blame for their midterm election losses. They are unwilling to acknowledge that there were some more fundamental factors at work, ones that may be too unpleasant for them to face.”
Among the fundamental factors at work, according to Cook, is the public’s view of government. He calls attention to one classic poll question: “Do you think that government should do more to solve problems, or is government trying to do too many things that would be better left to businesses and individuals?” (The wording of the question varies from pollster to pollster.)
In the 2008 national exit poll, 51 percent of voters surveyed said government should do more to solve problems, while 43 percent said government was trying to do too much. In 2010, only 38 percent thought government should do more, while 56 percent said government was trying to do too much. That’s a 26-point swing in just two years.
Set aside for now the reasons for why the public has turned against government; there’s simply no disputing the fact that they have. And because Barack Obama personifies Big Government in a way no other figure since Lyndon Johnson has, he and his party have suffered mightily.
President Obama’s challenge over the next two years is either to revivify the public’s faith in government or to change people’s impressions of him as the embodiment of a modern, activist liberal. Given his record over the last two years, that won’t be easy. What also complicates matters is that Obama is instinctively and intellectually a man of the left. That is apparent even in the deal he supports to cut tax rates for all Americans, including top income earners. The president cannot help but (repeatedly) express his disdain for key elements of a deal he himself is championing.
The task Mr. Obama faces over the next two years isn’t an impossible one, but it is formidable. He has to remake and resell himself (and his party) after two years of nearly unchecked liberalism. Having cemented this impression with the public, Obama now has the unenviable task of having to employ a political jackhammer to break it apart. Doing so is never easy or pretty.