CRP Blog

Monday, November 16, 2009

Barack Obama Proves He’s No Bill Clinton

Chairman of the California Republican Party
Fox & Hounds Daily

Milton Friedman famously observed that there is nothing so permanent as a temporary government program. In the political world, the Democrats have learned that something of the reverse is also true: there is nothing so temporary as a permanent political trend.

One year ago, Democrats were proclaiming they had established in 2008 a winning political coalition that would last a generation. Independent voters had joined labor unions, ethnic and other groups to form an invincible coalition that would guarantee Democrat victories for the foreseeable future.

Well, the “foreseeable future” lasted about as long as a failed one season comedy on NBC.

What a difference a year makes. Today, Democrats are clearing out of two governor’s offices while Republicans are preparing to move in. A Republican is preparing to take a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, four counties in New York State fell this month, and the list goes on.

“Hope” and “change” may have been enough in 2008, but that didn’t cut it in 2009.

How, and whether, Democrats choose to adapt to this new political environment will directly impact Republican prospects in 2010.

Yet, Barack Obama is proving he is no Bill Clinton. He is proving this through his governing style since taking office, and in his response to the November 2009 election.

In 2008, Barack Obama successfully appealed to the center of the American political spectrum, but he did so in a fundamentally different way than Bill Clinton did in 1992. In that year, Clinton actively campaigned as a “New” Democrat: moderate, reasonable, centrist. He campaigned on a middle class tax cut, challenged leftist cultural norms with his “Sister Souljah” speech, championed passage of NAFTA and expansion of free trade.

While Clinton appealed to the American center ideologically – through issues as well as rhetoric – Obama appealed to the center only rhetorically. That is, Obama did not embrace a centrist policy agenda during the campaign, or after. Instead, he appealed to the center by emphasizing to no end that he would move in a different direction than the unpopular President Bush. It was enough to win without compromising himself as the die-hard liberal we all knew him to be.

Consequently, Obama has not pursued a centrist policy agenda that would produce bi-partisan support.

He should have.

Consider how different the political world would be today if the President and Democrat congressional leaders had put forth a stimulus package that could garner a hundred Republican votes. Granted, it would have had to be a different package, perhaps with half as much spending plus permanent tax and regulatory relief.

What if their “cap and trade” (energy tax) bill was coupled with a strong dose of permanent regulatory and tax relief that would cause domestic energy production to surge?

And what if Democrats had passed a health care bill in July that was narrowly tailored to the specific failures of our health care system, rather than a back door government takeover through the very unpopular “public option?”

Had this been the case, President Obama’s public support would likely be in the 60% range as Americans responded positively to a leader making good on his promises without offending their sensibilities. Republicans in Congress would be divided between those who voted for Obama’s legislation and those insisting on opposing it. The President would have remained an asset to the Democrat candidates for governor in Virginia and New Jersey. Jon Corzine would have likely won a narrow victory. The 2009 election would have failed to send a clear signal. Republican disarray would be considered a political given for the rest of the 2010 cycle.

Instead, Democrat insistence on a fundamentally leftist policy agenda jammed through Congress without any bipartisan support has had the following effects:

The Republican base is energized, as demonstrated not only by turnout at anti-tax rallies but also in the voter turnout statistics from the November election.

Independent voters have been fundamentally turned off, shifting to Republicans by a 22% margin according to Gallup. This shift has led to a 4% advantage for Republicans in Gallup’s generic ballot strength.

With the dramatic decline of his public approval, the President has become a liability to his party’s candidates.

One would think that the Democrats’ rapidly dimming prospects would prompt a fundamental reassessment of the party’s policy agenda. And here Barack Obama is also proving he is no Bill Clinton.

Following the Republican landslide of 1994, Clinton tacked to the center. He proclaimed “the era of big government is over.” He signed a Republican welfare reform bill that broke the cycle of dependency. Taxes were cut. The budget was balanced. Even the dreaded 55-MPH speed limit was repealed.

Yet, rather than learning the lessons of the 2009 election by shifting to a more centrist agenda, Barack Obama and the Democrat leadership in Congress are plowing ahead with the very same health care reform plan that has already proven to be so unpopular.

In fact, the Democrats’ actions in Washington reflects a mentality of: “we have the majority now, we’re not going to have it for long, and we’re going to jam through every last bit of our agenda that we can before we have to start compromising in ’11.”

Call it, “the Chicago Way.”

Yet while the economy continues to languish, Democrat tactics and strategies have managed to stimulate one thing: the Republican Party.


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