Monday, February 15, 2010

Brown, Bayh, and Obama

In the wake of the election of Scott Brown as the junior Senator from Massachusetts, President Barack Obama elicited laughter by saying, with a straight face, that Mr. Brown's election resulted from the same cause as his own: dissatisfaction with business as usual in Washington. While that bit of gymnastical punditry deserved the mirth that it received -- Mr. Brown's surprising election was, of course, a stunning repudiation of the President -- it has not been noticed enough that President Obama was half right. On the day that Sen. Evan Bayh announced that he would not seek re-election, it is appropriate to note that to the extent that the President was correct, he precisely identified why his first year has resulted in his administration party going into a political free fall.

When the President said that he and Sen. Brown were elected for the same reason, he by inference was admitting that they were elected for negative reasons. That is to say, their appeal, according to the Obama analysis, was not due to support for their policy positions -- on which they had nothing in common. Rather, they were elected because the Washington establishment was being repudiated. In Mr. Obama's case, that means his election was accomplished due to the unpopularity of his predecessor. He was not the positive Obama; he was the anti-Bush.

Mr. Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate to receive more than 51% of the popular vote since LBJ, and he and the Democrats quickly took his landslide victory as evidence of a vast electoral mandate, if not a sea change in the direction of American politics. Does anyone remember when we were being assured that the future belonged to the Democrats, as the Republican Party had succeeded in relegating itself to the role of an irrelevant regional party nonexistent outside the south?

In fact, the President had no mandate, certainly not for the far reaching overhaul that he envisioned for the American economy, featuring government entanglement in the private sector, not as an emergency measure, but as a re-ordering of our way of life. The only mandate that President Obama had was not to be Bush. He has succeeded at that, but he has done so by being someone that the public was not at all prepared for.

The senatorial career of Evan Bayh was sacrificed by that mistake. His resignation will be symbolic of the sacrifice of the possibilities of Democratic dominance if the President does not find a way to change course and tack toward the political center.

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