Does Barack Obama Even Want to Save His Presidency?
Back on the first day in December, 2009, I sent Powerline a post entitled Can Obama Save his Presidency? Those were early days, to be sure. But I was already persuaded that President Barack Obama had laid the groundwork for a political realignment against his party, and I considered the thought experiment worth engaging in. I even offered the President some unsolicited advice – that he reposition himself politically – and I suggested that he had in front of him a golden opportunity. Next week, I wrote, Obama
will be once again in Copenhagen — where some weeks back he made a colossal fool out of himself (and us) while seeking to persuade the International Olympic Committee to hold the next Olympics in Chicago.
This time, however, if our President wanted to, he could present himself as a paragon of principle and strength.
In his inaugural address, President Obama pledged to “roll back the specter of a warming planet” and “restore science to its rightful place,” implying — graceless as always — that the administration of George W. Bush has suppressed scientific truth in the interests of ideology.
In Copenhagen, President Obama can show us that — however unjust he may have been to his predecessor — he is as good as his word, and then he can regain in some measure the trust that he has lost by his involvement in the lying, the wholesale bribery, and the other shenanigans associated with the “stimulus” scam and the proposed health care reform.
In the last few days, we have learned that what has long been suspected is all too true: that the work done by the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, which formed the basis for the four reports issued by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is a sham — that the data were doctored, that the computer simulation was a fraud, and that systematic efforts were made by the most prominent climate scientists to corrupt the peer-review process and suppress legitimate criticism: all for the purpose of imposing a straitjacket on the world economy.
As radical climate alarmist George Monbiot has acknowledged on his blog, “Pretending that this isn’t a real crisis isn’t going to make it go away . . . I know that opaqueness and secrecy are the enemies of science. There is a word for the apparent repeated attempts to prevent disclosure revealed in these emails: unscientific . . . No one has been as badly let down by the revelations in these emails as those of us who have championed the science. We should be the first to demand that” climate research be “unimpeachable, not the last.”
This is precisely what President Obama could say in Copenhagen — that some of the most prominent climate scientists have betrayed their calling, that the global-warming hypothesis remains, in fact, unproven, and that the reports issued by the IPCC provide no basis for the making of public policy.
In this fashion — mindful that a specter is “an apparition inspiring dread” and that one of the principal functions of science is to dispel illusions of this very sort — he really could “roll back the specter of a warming planet” and “restore science to its rightful place.”
In such a situation, it would be appropriate that President Obama recommend that there be further study, that the raw data collected and the computer code written be available for inspection by all, and that research funds be apportioned equally between those who assert and those who deny that we are threatened by anthropogenic global warming.
In short, he could rise above the fray, as presidents are supposed to do. And, at the same time, he could get out from under the economically destructive and politically suicidal cap-and-trade bill that Nancy Pelosi jammed through the House and that he endorsed.
He would infuriate the true believers that make up much of his party’s base, to be sure. His science czar John Holdren — a radical socialist who was an alarmist regarding global cooling back in the early 1970s before he became an alarmist regarding global warming — might resign. Al Gore, who has made something like $100 million in the course of peddling junk science, would rise up in high dudgeon.
But the President of the United States would win the hearts of his countrymen. Climategate could be for Barack Obama what Sister Souljah was for William Jefferson Clinton.Alternatively, of course, President Obama could hunker down, embrace “the specter of a warming planet,” and disgrace himself by telling us what anyone who pays the slightest attention to developments knows to be untrue, as he has done so often in the health care debates. If he does so, however — if he really is, as I suspect, a one-trick pony, an empty suit with a golden tongue — he will only accelerate his precipitous decline and that of his party in the polls.
Needless to say, the President did not take my advice; and, frankly, I never expected him to do so. His vanity is an insuperable obstacle to his rethinking anything. William Jefferson Clinton had vices galore. But, as Newt Gingrich once pointed out, an obstinate refusal to rethink was never among them. He was always learning something. Barack Obama is more like the Bourbons of France. He never forgets, and he never learns anything.
I was not the only person to send a shot across Obama’s bow that December. There was someone else – far more distinguished than I am – who did so in a particularly dramatic way. His name was William Daley. He had been Clinton’s Secretary of Commerce. He had chaired Al Gore’s Presidential campaign, and he was the brains behind the Chicago machine. On Christmas eve – when no one but political junkies, Congressmen and Senators, and Democratic operatives would notice – he published an op-ed in The Washington Post in which he warned that the President and the Democrats in Congress were in danger of bringing about a realignment in favor of the Republicans.
After alluding to the announced retirements of four centrist Democrats in the House and to Parker Griffith’s switch to the Republican side, Daley argued that “the Democratic Party — my lifelong political home — has a critical decision to make: Either we plot a more moderate, centrist course or risk electoral disaster not just in the upcoming midterms but in many elections to come.”
The political dangers of this situation could not be clearer.
Witness the losses in New Jersey and Virginia in this year’s off-year elections. In those gubernatorial contests, the margin of victory was provided to Republicans by independents — many of whom had voted for Obama. Just one year later, they had crossed back to the Republicans by 2-to-1 margins.
Witness the drumbeat of ominous poll results. Obama’s approval rating has fallen below 49 percent overall and is even lower — 41 percent — among independents. On the question of which party is best suited to manage the economy, there has been a 30-point swing toward Republicans since November 2008, according to Ipsos. Gallup’s generic congressional ballot shows Republicans leading Democrats. There is not a hint of silver lining in these numbers. They are the quantitative expression of the swing bloc of American politics slipping away.
Griffith and the Democrats who have decided to retire are, Daley says, “the truest canaries in the coal mine.”
Of course, Daley thought that the Democrats could head off danger by changing course. “It may be too late,” he observed, “to avoid some losses in 2010, it is not too late to avoid the kind of rout that redraws the political map.” All that his party had to do was to “to acknowledge that the agenda of the party’s most liberal supporters has not won the support of a majority of Americans — and, based on that recognition, to steer a more moderate course on the key issues of the day, from health care to the economy to the environment to Afghanistan.” The Democrats need not, he added, abandon their radical agenda. They need only take the polling data “as a sign that they must continue the hard work of slowly and steadily persuading their fellow citizens to embrace their perspective.”
I argued at the time that Daley’s warning was “too little and too late.” “With the Senate’s passage of Harry Reid’s version of the healthcare bill in the wee hours this morning,” I wrote, “the die is cast.”
Realignments take place when the American people come to feel — I use that last word advisedly — that one of the two parties is a conspiracy to take away their liberties.
This was the charge that Thomas Jefferson and the Jeffersonian Republicans of 1800 directed at the Federalists, and the conduct of the New England Federalists at the Hartford Convention a few years thereafter persuaded a majority of their compatriots that there was something to the charge.
It was the charge that Andrew Jackson directed at supporters of the second Bank of the United States, that Abraham Lincoln’s Republicans directed at the slave power, that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Democratic Party directed at the so-called “economic royalists” in and after 1932.
The argument that FDR lodged in 1936 –that “a small group” is intent on concentrating “into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor – other people’s lives” — was then a lie. But it worked. Americans were suffering, and someone had to be blamed.
FDR’s charge is now quite obviously true. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid have unmasked the Democratic Party. We now know who and what they are. We know that the entire party supports what I once described as “Obama’s Tyrannical Ambition.”
All that it now takes to turn American politics upside down is for someone on the Republican side to rearticulate FDR’s charge and drive it home.
President Obama ignored Daley’s warning. Not even the election of Scott Brown to Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in liberal Massachusetts was sufficient to cause him to rethink. And, in November 2010, he and his party got a “shellacking” on a scale not seen in my lifetime. At the state level, which is especially telling, it was the greatest Republican victory since 1928.
President Obama responded to that defeat by hiring William Daley as his Chief-of-Staff. I speculated at the time that this might signal on his part a Clintonian willingness to accept the will of the people, pivot politically, and work assiduously with the Republicans elected to the House and the Senate in crafting legislation that would come to grips with the country’s fiscal crisis. “Well, one thing is now clear,” I wrote when the appointment was made.” Barack Obama very much wants to be re-elected, and he is willing to do whatever it takes.” I thought that Daley would wield far more authority than was ever allowed Rahm Emanuel.
Daley’s arrival at the helm also means that Obama has decided to pivot and reposition himself as a budget-cutter and a friend to big business. The left within the Democratic Party is now in an uproar, which will help the President far more than it will hurt him. If he is to present himself as the Comeback Kid, he will have to ditch his party in much the same manner as Slick Willie from Arkansas. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell will have to be ready to do business with one hand – while they are investigating malfeasance on the part of the administration with the other. Politically, we are in for a battle royal.
To a considerable degree, the outcome will turn on contingencies. The stock market is up, business leaders seem sanguine, and investor confidence is high. As I argued in an earlier post, however, there are storm clouds on the horizon. Housing prices are dropping, and some observers believe that they are still overpriced by twenty percent. If they continue to fall, more homeowners will find that they owe more than the house is worth – and many of these will default on their mortgages. Moreover, almost all of the states and a great many of the municipalities in the country have large unfunded obligations which will soon at least in part come due, and some of our most populous and wealthy states – Illinois, New York, and California among them – have massive deficits in their current operating budgets. They will have to cut jobs and services, and they may be forced to raise taxes. Neither expedient will speed the recovery. We could easily slip back into recession – and if we do or if, as is highly likely, unemployment remains high, the President will get the blame.
To the discontent derived from the economy, we can add that attendant on Obamacare – which grows more unpopular with every passing month. If the Republicans in the House vote to repeal the bill and if the Democrats in the Senate block the bill, President Obama and his party will be made to pay. If the bill passes both the House and the Senate and President Obama vetoes it, he alone will bear the blame. The situation favors the Republicans. The President is vulnerable.
I underestimated – and my bet is that Daley underestimated – Barack Obama’s unwillingness to accept the verdict rendered by the voters in November, 2010. Yes, of course, he gave way on the question of the Bush tax cuts. He acknowledged that the last thing to adopt in the middle of an economic downturn would be a tax increase. But he did so in as graceless and resentful fashion as possible, and he did not thereafter tackle the fiscal question. He ignored the recommendations of the commission that he had appointed to look into the question. In the budget he presented, he made no acknowledgment that there was such a crisis. His unwillingness to face up to the facts was so egregious that, in a Senate controlled by his party, it was voted down 95-0.
Yes, under pressure, Barack Obama eventually reached a compromise with the Republicans on a budget requiring no new taxes. No one claimed, however, that the budget passed was anything but a stopgap measure, and the President soon launched a campaign to do the very thing that he had admitted would be disastrous in the middle of an economic downturn: raise taxes. It is clearly his view that he can succeed where others before him have failed – in ignoring the will of the people expressed in a decisive manner a short time before, and in running a campaign based upon class resentment. He could not do more damage to the Democratic Party than he is now doing – not even if, as I once puckishly suggested might be the case, that evil genius Karl Rove had foisted him on the Democrats as a Manchurian candidate. What species of folly could Rove suggest that would top what we have seen?
In effect, President Obama is saying to the American people, “My way, or the highway!” And there can be no doubt that they are going to send him and his party out on the highway. It is hard at this stage to believe that he has no notion of what he is doing. When he hired Daley, I figured that he had decided that it was time for adult supervision. But the adolescent in the White House is clearly incapable of accepting that. He would not only rather be right than victorious; he is unwilling even to contemplate the possibility that he might be wrong. His answer to the failure of the first “stimulus” is to propose another one no less indecent.
As a Republican, I welcome this, and I hope that the leaders of my party have the good sense to seize upon this opportunity with both hands – for it is the chance of a lifetime. Obama has said, “All or nothing,” and that means that, if we find a standard-bearer capable of articulating the grounds for a restoration of constitutional government in this country, we can begin to turn the administrative entitlements state gradually put into place by the Democrats and by me-too Republicans over the last century into a nothing.
As an American, however, I cannot wholeheartedly welcome the suicide of one of our two major parties. I have a pretty good idea of what one-party rule looks like. To get a notion, one need only take a glance at Massachusetts where serving as Speaker of the House has repeatedly turned out to be a preparation for serving a long term in prison for malfeasance. Or one can look at Chicago where no mayor has ever gone to prison. The Republicans may generally be preferable to the Democrats, but the existence of an alternative is necessary to keep them honest.
Were I a Democratic Senator, I would give a speech denouncing the most recent proposal put forward by President Obama. I would denounce it on principled grounds as an unjust attack on the investors and entrepreneurs who actually create jobs in this country. I would denounce it as bad economics likely to produce long-term structural unemployment, and I would say bluntly that a Democratic Party hostile to small businessmen – the bulk of those who make over $200,000 a year – has no future in the United States. In short, I would throw down the gauntlet; and, in the process, I would lay the foundation for the Democratic Party’s return to sanity after 2012.
I could even put a name on the Democratic Senator who should do the job. Jim Webb was a genuine war hero during Vietnam. He did yeoman service as Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan. His political career has, however, been a disaster. He allowed his anger – some of it justified, some of it not – at the manner in which George W. Bush was conducting the war in Iraq lead him into a pact with the left wing of the Democratic Party, and after 2008 he was a reliable vote for the so-called “stimulus” bill, for Obamacare, and for Dodd-Frank. He has done his country considerable harm; he has a lot to answer for; and I suspect that, on his better days, he knows it. When not enraged, Jim Webb is as sharp as they come. It is now time that he do penance for his sins – and by way of doing penance he could do his country and his party considerable good.
Jim Webb should give the speech, and he should run in the primaries against the President. He would not win the nomination, but the effect of his presence would be electric – and it would sow the seeds for the Democratic Party’s rebirth as a party ready and willing to participate in our great national project of restoring constitutional government. All that Webb would really have to do is to stand up and say, “The Emperor has no clothes!”