I was skeptical of President Obama’s “new centrism” before the State of the Union speech because all the signs were there that the centrism Mr. Obama had in mind was really made of illusions and rhetoric. Now the speech has been made, and I must report that my skepticism was well-placed. Of course, the president’s public cheerleaders are raving about the speech. My old friends at the Democratic Leadership Council, once a genuine centrist force at least in its own party, were using such words as “masterpiece,” asserting it would confound the conservatives, and trap the Republicans into political paralysis. Don’t bet on it.
I think the Democratic leadership are frozen in a time warp, the kind that believes this is the 1990s, and that the economic/political situation is the same as existed in that time. This is a misapprehension of great dimension, almost breathtaking to believe, but it does explain how far away from general public opinion they are and continue to be.
One of the many myths that arose in the past decade, among both parties, but especially among liberals, is that the key to persuading public opinion was to be found in the manipulation of language, of image, and of always taking an offensive position in public policy. With a gifted communicator such as Bill Clinton, these notions took hold, and seemed reinforced when he was replaced by a weak communicator, George W. Bush. So much ballyhoo surrounded the election of Barack Obama in 2008, including excessive if not wrongheaded evaluations of his
communication skills, that it was assumed within the Democratic establishment that he could talk his way out of anything. It seems clear that Mr. Obama took his own propaganda seriously.
After the momentous defeat of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid leadership in the 2010 elections, a curious atmosphere seemed to develop around the White House. “We will put the Republican on the defensive; we will outflank them rhetorically; we will talk our way out of this” seemed to be the unspoken mantra. If there is any doubt about this, I simply direct the reader to Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address (not a brilliant oration, incidentally, but a declamation of banalities).
To see it as a “masterpiece” of strategy is the same as suggesting the Hindenberg could have been repaired and flown again.
I am disappointed to see the Democratic Leadership Council, once a fountain of serious centrist ideas and public policies, decline to the state of fawning cheerleader to a president who has betrayed, or failed to understand, the ideas and initiatives this group promoted in the past.
Attention now will turn to Mr. Boehner and his compatriots to fashion a strategy that will both illustrate Republican and conservative alternative public policy strategies, and persuade the majority of voters that these alternatives are clearly superior to the now exhausted and overspent liberal course of domestic policy. It will not be as easy as it seems. The new GOP majority includes Republican oldtimers, new conservatives, and even newer “Tea Party” enthusiasts. There is the possibility of internal conflicts, especially among newcomers who do not have to fashion effective working majorities. In the journey to the Republican nomination for president in 2012, there is also the potential obstacle of harmful grandstanding, as individuals who see themselves as political stars eschew the important common effort.
Let me state the priority. First, a workable alternative program for domestic economic policy that attracts voters, especially conservative and centrist voters, AND the determination to enact it. Second, a candidate for president who understands these issues, respects the priority, and then has the skill to inspire voters to join up and join in.