Scott Brown arrives in Washington driving his famous truck, and he
looks like a million dollars Jimmy Stewart playing Mr. Smith.
President Obama polishes his State of the Union Address and suddenly
he's looking discounted to more like a few thousand dollars. The two
events are not unrelated.
The president will speak to the joint session of Congress next week as
his approval ratings have fallen from a high of 70 percent a year ago to
less than 50 percent, proving once more that in politics nothing recedes
like success. At this time last year, Obama was President Possibility,
with everybody cheering his promises and expectations. This year, he's
President Impractical, exposed as the Pied Piper who suddenly can't seem
to squeeze a note from his dented musical pipe.
Only a month ago, Scott Brown was trailing state Attorney General Martha
Coakley by 20 points, headed toward the oblivion of returning to the
state senate. His five-point triumph was all the sweeter for it, the
accomplishment of the impossible dream of election to the U.S. Senate as
a Republican in Massachusetts.
Democrats in Washington are trying to spin the upset as merely the work
of an inept candidate running a poor campaign, but nobody in the
Democratic spin dryer actually believes that. Brown kept his eye on the
prize, driving his message of lower taxes, smaller government, cutting
spending and above all squashing the monstrosity of ObamaCare. He tapped
into anger at an administration in Washington that has grown arrogant
and out of touch in only 12 months. Scott Brown won the argument in
Massachusetts, but the message, like the buck, stops in the Oval Office.
How could such an outlandish upset happen? Let us count the ways. First
of all, the gap between what the people expected Barack Obama to be and
what he became has widened into a canyon, and the rhetorical flourishes
that so mesmerized so many have become a form of self-mockery. The empty
vessel the voters filled to overflowing with summer hopes and winter
dreams could not withstand the weight of radical ideology, and he has
suffered for it.
To the tea drinkers on his right, the president lacks the moral
conviction they seek in comparisons to Ronald Reagan. To the left, he's
been unable to assert the passionate intensity required for expanding
the government to the taste of liberals or "progressives," as they
now call themselves. To the swelling numbers of disaffected
independents, he shows none of the finesse of triangulation that Bill
Clinton mastered in compromising with Republicans over welfare reform.
The Obama center cannot hold.
Then there's the transparency issue, which voters across the ideological
spectrum crave the transparency which Obama said would be the clear
glass through which we could watch how his policies were made.
Transparency turned out to be as ephemeral as a campaign slogan written
on a balloon floating in the rafters at Convention Hall.
Keeping the congressional health care debate off C-SPAN turned off the
millions of political junkies who regard Brian Lamb's network as the
source of knowledge. Democrats blame Republicans for making
bipartisanship impossible, but it was President Obama who handed over
leadership on health care "reform" to the congressional tyrants whose
approval ratings are worse than his. He put out the fire and turned out
the Blue Dogs. They were left to fend for themselves.
The president was aware in last year's State of the Union how his
economic recovery agenda could be received with skepticism. "Here in
Washington we've all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into
broken promises and wasteful spending," he said. "And with a plan of
this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right."
He promptly got it wrong. The health care that would "bring down our
deficit in the years to come" promises instead to increase the deficit.
It raises costs for Medicare for those he said would see not their
medical costs rise. The "Cadillac tax" was unfair business as usual in
Reminding Massachusetts of this was catnip for Scott Brown. "The people
do not want the trillion dollar health care plan being forced on them,"
he said. Indeed. Voters everywhere don't want backroom deals and payoffs
to Nebraska or a new "Louisiana Purchase."
The schedulers for the State of the Union have taken care not to
conflict with fans eager to watch the three-hour premiere of ABC's
"Lost." The president's address precedes "sweeps" week, so we can watch
without distractions to see whether the president understands what the
Scott Brown phenomenon was about, and whether he's rethinking how to
"get it right." If he doesn't, he can still watch the premier of "Lost."
The title alone should make a painful point.