Friday, March 06, 2009

When The Beer Goggles Fade

Good column.


Did you feel it? The political ground shifting beneath President Barack Obama since his speech last week to Congress? It's been downhill since and I'm not referring mainly to the Dow Jones record-setting dive. The pivot point of the shift was the speech, or rather what the speech did to the evolving public narrative of Obama.


I would only disagree that the Obama deception represents a clever political strategy. The deception proceeds from the fundamental contradiction in the Obama strategy - talking like Ronald Reagan but walking like the second coming of Norman Thomas - and indeed that of all Washington liberals. Sensing the political fragility of the moment, they are racing to enact as much of their statist agenda as possible before the 2010 election puts the brakes on what, God willing, will ultimately be seen as an unfortunate interregnum between Republican Bush and a genuinely conservative regime to come.

Again, the speech to Congress was the pivot point. Before the speech, Obama was protected by a kind of political equivalent of the Star Trek Shield. His symbolizing of an historic milestone, which alone moved millions of white voters to his column, combined with his soaring rhetoric, which negated criticism from John McCain and other Republicans of the substance of Obama's proposals, to protect him through election day and into the transition.

But the magnetism of his historic moment began fading once the economic stimulus, the omnibus and the budget were on the table. As people focused more on the details and how they didn't square with what they thought he had promised during the campaign, the soaring rhetoric lost much of its power. It may even now be approaching a net negative because it throws so much more light on the inaequacies of the policies.

And so the ground has shifted and the essential narrative is changing. Before, supporting Obama was an act of personal and national affirmation made all the more pleasant and attractive by the seeming reasonableness of his policy proposals and the winsomeness of his public personality . He succeeded admirably in making himself a comfortable and reassuring choice, thus making it not merely "safe" to vote for him, but positively compelling.

Now, though, the mask is off and the disconnect between rhetoric and reality is emerging as the dominant driver of the Obama narrative. The contrast is no longer between the young, personable, historic candidate Obama and a creaky, cranky old Republican White Guy, it's between what America thought it was getting in a President Obama (cool, reasonable and beyond partisanship) and what it now sees as the reality of a President Obama (government spending out of control, an uncertain hand on foreign policy, broken promises, more bureaucrats, etc. etc.).

Put another way - what we see now is neither what we were promised, nor what we expected.

No comments: