Obama betrays a dream, disappoints a nation

Troy Senik Senior Fellow, Center for Individual Freedom
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In American politics, nothing is permanent. On election night this year, that should be the thought running through the minds of the liberal pundits who believed they were dancing on the Republican Party’s grave two years earlier. In those halcyon days, James Carville wrote of a 40-year Democratic majority. The New York Times Book Review’s Sam Tanenhaus declared “the death of conservatism.” And Time magazine ran a cover with the GOP’s logo under the heading “Endangered Species” (note the editorial decision not to use a question mark).

The commentariat will call the sharp Republican turnaround that is likely to result from the midterms ‘unprecedented.’ They will be wrong. Elite opinion also read the GOP its last rites in the wake of Barry Goldwater’s drubbing in the 1964 presidential election and the catastrophe of Watergate 10 years later. In both cases, prognostications for the party often included talk of minority status for a generation. And in both cases, Republicans went on to produce winning presidential candidates who were subsequently reelected with the electoral votes of 49 states.

Yet, casting history aside, Democrats believed they had built an empire on which the sun would never set. Why? Because in Democratic politics, as in philosophical liberalism, the controlling vice is the assumption that the sheer force of the left’s moral righteousness can allow it to escape gravity. And while a fervent, deafened Congress should be held partially responsible for this delusion, its culpability pales in comparison to that of a president who is too confident in his utopianism to look in the mirror.

Barack Obama — more than perhaps any president in American history — campaigned on the ineffable. Rather than hitching his wagon to a policy agenda or even a slate of first principles, he offered himself as a redeemer — as a currency that could purchase transcendence.

Amongst the congenitally skeptical — which is to say the congenitally unsurprised — this was always a source of doubt. The vision of the authors of “The Federalist Papers” — validated by more than two centuries of experience — was one of political institutions structured to wring out as much of the inherent shortcomings of humanity as possible. From this temperate foundation Madison, Hamilton, and Jay would have had little patience for “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” They would have recognized that this is the sort of inanity one utters before drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid.

In light of this trend, Barack Obama’s great shortcoming is not that he is an utterly inadequate president; one who fails to recognize that his office has a unique responsibility to history and not vice versa. Barack Obama’s great shortcoming is that he broke America’s heart.

Ever the overanxious suitor, he promised what could not be delivered: an escape from the mundane, petty, and tiresome vagaries of American politics; in short, an escape from the pitfalls of the human condition. This is not conventional failure, for which Americans hold their politicians to reasonable standards. It is fantasy — a sin that is compounded when it is indulged at the same time that millions of Americans fear the loss of jobs and homes. In light of that distinction, President Obama will face a stark choice the morning after Election Day: he can begin preparing to change his mind or begin preparing to change his address.

Troy Senik is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom and a former White House speechwriter.