The great Democratic revolution of 2008 is entering its pitiful stage.
If Nancy Pelosi had a guillotine, Robert Gibbs’ head would be rolling around in a basket. His offense? Uttering perhaps the most unassailably accurate statement of his tenure as White House press secretary: that there is “no doubt” Republicans might take back the House.
Theories abound for why Gibbs would say such a flatly true thing. The simplest is that Gibbs was asked whether the House is in play on “Meet the Press” and in the flush of the moment slipped up with an honest answer. Whatever the explanation, Pelosi is enraged at his counterrevolutionary backsliding.
The more important question is: Why aren’t Democrats mad at President Barack Obama (and Speaker Pelosi) for endangering their majority, rather than at Gibbs for acknowledging the fact it’s at risk?
In their reaction to Gibbs, Democrats have vitiated what seemed most admirable about their determination to pass health-care reform: its astounding political heedlessness. They were doing it simply because they thought it was right. Or so it seemed. What looked to all the world like an act of political hara-kiri borne of ideological righteousness, the Democrats considered a common-sense step for which they’d inevitably be rewarded by the voters.
And they’ll get their reward, good and hard. The latest three national polls show that the public opposes the health-care reform by 49-36, 53-40 and 47-35 (in CBS, Public Policy Polling and Pew surveys, respectively).
An Obama adviser complained to the Politico that the president is not receiving due credit for all his heroic efforts, including sweeping health-care and financial reforms. “It’s very frustrating that it’s not breaking through, when you look at these things and their scale,” he said. “Can you imagine if Bill Clinton had achieved even one of these?”
That’s a counterfactual that misses the point. A secret to Clinton’s success is precisely that he didn’t achieve signature liberal legislation. He bragged a lot about doing small things, and after the 1994 debacle, stumbled upon a politically successful formula for center-left governance in a center-right country. The next time Obama has the Big Dog in the White House for his help in mollifying the business community, he should ask him for a tutorial.
According to Gallup, conservatives outnumber liberals in America by 2-1. That datum alone should be enough to make a liberal speaker of the House concerned above all about holding down the middle. Instead, Pelosi has led the charge for ruinously expensive initiatives that have inflamed the right and alienated independents.
There’s a two-prong strategy for dealing with the resulting backlash: 1) Denying that it’s happening (if only the White House press secretary will cooperate); 2) Should the worst come, chastising the public for its lack of discernment and shocking backwardness.
Liberal radio talk-show host Bill Press has teed up the latter option in response to Obama’s weak poll numbers. According to Press, the American public doesn’t deserve a leader as effective and farsighted as Obama. “It just shows once again that the American people are spoiled,” Press says.
Such is the agony of the revolution of 2008.
Lowry is editor of the National Review.