By Doug Wead
As President Barack Obama stands to deliver his Sate of the Union address he will be the most unpopular one year president since, well, since, Ronald Reagan. That’s right. Perhaps the greatest president of our lifetime was very unpopular after one year.
In the midterm elections, the Reagan Revolution was spurned, the Republicans lost their congressional majority and the party was over as the country ticked back more to the middle. The Republicans never again had both houses under Reagan. Many of the goals that had helped drive his election victories were never realized. Prayer in school, favored at the time by majorities of 70% didn’t happen. Not even a moment of silence. The abortion issue stayed where it was. The Department of Education not only survived, its budget fattened grossly.
Like Obama, Reagan had defeated a very troubled presidency. Jimmy Carter had allowed inflation to reach 14%. A fundamentalist Islamic preacher had seized the American Embassy in Tehran and taken Americans and virtually the whole country, hostage. When Carter sent in American helicopters to rescue them, the machines broke down in the desert, a metaphor for the atrophy of the military under the Democrat administration. The election of Ronald Reagan was not just about him, it was an anti-Carter vote too.
Barak Obama followed what some call a “Republican Carter,” George W. Bush, who was perceived as going to war for his father’s honor and ballooning the national debt beyond recognition. Even now, every time the Democrats spend they point back and say, like a little sibling, “It’s not our fault, he started it.” Bush left with only evangelical Christian supporting him and then promptly appeared on ABC Nightline to announce that he didn’t really believe the Bible was true.
And so, Barack Obama and his people have to face the fact that their election was more about voting for the opposite party of George W. Bush than it was about putting a liberal in office. In fact, liberal and conservative were terms he judiciously avoided. Like Reagan, Obama called for “change.”
It is becoming increasingly clear that the sort of change both presidents proposed in their initial legislation was a bit too much for the country and the first electoral tests sent that signal. The tactical question is this. Will Obama, like Reagan, be able to make adjustments quick enough, and do so without sounding like a traitor to his own base?
There are some big differences between Obama and Reagan and their status after one year. The country polled conservative in the 1980’s and it still does. Obama is trying to force liberalism on a nation that doesn’t want it. Reagan only had to adjust down a little bit. Obama will have to make a radical U Turn.
Reagan surprised the press by being more reasonable than they thought. Obama surprised the press by being the most liberal president in American history. He continues to make Clinton and Kennedy look like Republicans. Journalists who arrogantly prowled the left for years are now expressing alarm.
Reagan immediately began to expand his political base. Obama treated the federal government like a Viking Raider, throwing out any loot he could find to his radical, shrill constituents, shutting out any offers of friendship from the other side, and ignoring the housing crisis that had got him elected.
Reagan stood tall for America overseas. And while we were unpopular in every country in the world except South Korea and, embarrassingly, the apartheid government of South Africa, we did eventually see the end of the Cold War and the salvation of the planet from the specter of nuclear annihilation. Today, Reagan commands respect everywhere, even in the former Soviet Union.
Obama offers no explanations for our policies. He winks and nods knowingly at the nations that have hated us. It has made him extremely popular outside America, but then, keep in mind, all those French and British and Turkish voters are not registered. And lately, our overseas friends have spurned our charm offensive and returned to the blame game.
Of course there is something that Obama has that Reagan didn’t. Obama is the first African American president and because of that the vast majority of Americans, including the bulk of the press, want him to be successful. It would be the height of irony if race should be the reason he wins re-election but there you are. Last week a commentator on the BBC referred to the election of Barack Obama as ending 200 years of American racism. (One wonders when the British will ever end racism in their country. They have, as yet, still not elected a prime minister of African descent.)
So there you have it. There is deep rage over the fact that we gave him the keys to the cupboard, expecting him to feed the hungry orphans, and he emptied it all for his own friends instead. And now suddenly he wants more to take care of those orphans. And yet, like Reagan, he is likeable. He is calm and he talks nice. And most Americans cannot bear the thought of being called a racist by voting against him on anything.
Watch closely the State of the Union address. Will he dramatically signal that he is willing to turn this ship around and head in a more moderate direction? Or will he re-engage the enemy, stubbornly holding onto healthcare and calling for another round of trillion dollar spending? Will he pull a Ron Paul and call the boys and girls home from Afghanistan?
Don’t count on any of it. None of it smacks of the art of politics. If a politician ever needed doubletalk it is Obama and this State of the Union. He will offer a little bit for everybody. This will be a stall. The White House needs time to see a way out. Obama must finally focus on the purpose of his presidency, bring in all the players, like he should have done in the first place, like he promised he would. And together, find a way to do some of the very basic things he should have done last year to end the housing crisis and to correct the banking crisis and to put some of the trillions he asked for into immediate employment.
And 2010? Be warned. Don’t count him out. Reagan came back. Historically, an administration that takes a beating in their first midterm election often wins re-election to the White House. Be prepared for those Obama political ads, with the president standing on a scaffold in Springfield, Illinois, with a housing development rising behind him and hammers banging and saws buzzing as the narrator intones, “Once again, it is morning in America.”