Obama’s Fundamental Problem…
There’s no other way to look at it: the 2008 US election should be an absolute cakewalk for the Democrats: a profoundly disliked president, an economy in a crisis not seen since the late 1920s, an unpopular war, US global influence vastly diminished, a currency weaker than it’s been in a generation and eight solid years of a Republican presidency.
And yet, in recent polls, Republican Presidential nominee John McCain, disliked by his own party’s most faithful (in multiple senses of the word…), is starting to gain a small lead. What gives?
The problem is fundamental to Democrats: on the whole, the population of the United States does not embrace Democratic philosophy, and the Democratic party itself is a collection of such deeply divergent special interests that keeping a coalition happily united is a near impossible task.
On the first point, the bulk of the US population does not agree with the fundamental principle of Democratic policies: that it is a just course of action to take from many to pay for the chosen few on ideological grounds. In fact, the “founding fathers” of the US said as much: to quote Thomas Jefferson, “The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”
The majority of people in the US are willing to look after themselves, work hard and honestly don’t expect the government to provide the solution to every last inconvenience.
Take the mortgage crisis: while Barack Obama (and the Democratic Congress) pushed for a government bailout of the banks (ostensibly under the guise of helping the distressed home owners, however keep in mind it’s the banks who lose on a grand scale when mortgages default), Mr. McCain had a very different message: why should you, as a responsible homeowner, have to pay for your neighbour’s error in judgement in taking on an ultimately unserviceable mortgage?
You’d think Mr. Obama and the rest of the Democrats would gain an awful lot of traction with their “we’ll save you” message. However they miscalculated the math: their “solution” imposes a burden on 95% of the population for the benefit of the 5% of the population who quite willingly and freely chose to over-extend themselves. While on the surface you’d think Mr. Obama’s message would have massive popular appeal, the Democrats simply don’t have the numbers.
They likewise have a problem hanging their case for the White House on President Bush’s unpopularity. Why? Because the only thing statistically more unpopular among Americans than President Bush is the Democratic Congress! The Democratic message, repeated ad infinitum, of Mr. McCain being simply an extension of President Bush has rung hollow from the get-go: if you’re going to make the case that your opponent is simply a mirror image of the current President by virtue of the fact he voted with the President 90% of the time, you’d best first ensure your record doesn’t reflect a voting record that obediently voted with your even more unpopular Congressional colleagues 97% of the time!
Clearly Mr. Obama’s advisors see Mr. McCain’s reputation for independence as a very significant threat to their candidate’s image as an agent of change. Unfortunately in doing so, they expose Mr. Obama to charges that he’s anything but an agent of change, opening the door for Mr. McCain to point to his rival’s hardly-inspiring record of simply going along with his party during his three years in office.
On the second point, the Democrats are a party based on reconciling irreconcilable differences: their supporters include union members (read: union leaders), but also the “environmentalists” who oppose exactly the kind of industries who lend themselves to a unionized workforce. An overwhelming majority of lawyers support the Democrats by virtue of the party’s opposition to punitive damage caps, but at the same time they seek to appeal to Jack and Jane Blue Collar, hardly a constituency enamored of rich lawyers who enjoy a lavish lifestyle based largely on attacking large employers of union folk. Those same hard working, blue collar supporters find themselves supporting the same party as vaccuous Hollywood stars, for whom it’s important to be seen as egalitarian as they phone in their donations while ensconced in their multi-million dollar homes.
Mr. Obama’s San Francisco comments about “people clinging to guns and religion” is very telling: this is a party which, at its root, attempts to appeal to the disenfranchised only for the purpose of getting power so that they can subsequently get to the more important task of imposing ideologies. It’s no different than Mr. Obama making speeches about “protecting” blue collar jobs by way of protectionist policies while his representatives simultaneously approach the Canadian government to reassure them it’s all just talk and they needn’t get nervous about existing trade agreements, despite their candidate’s insistence he will “renegotiate” those same agreements.
The bigger problem Barack Obama and the Democrats face is the sophistication of the voters: the Democratic message of the government as the solution for all the populace’s woes doesn’t ring true to a population who has seen it all before and is familiar with the results. If government intervention was truly the answer, wouldn’t pre-open-economy China, the old Soviet Union and, more recently, Venezuela be paradises for their people?
Finally, the Democratic leadership seems to have an oddly myopic view of reality: they appear to only associate with other Democrats and in so doing get a distorted view of their own popularity. Their hubris has bitten them many times before: both Mr. Gore and Mr. Kerry were widely considered shoe-ins – it was incomprehensible that they should lose. Far-left Democratic supporters (think Michael Moore et al) were utterly dumb-struck that their candidate could have lost in ’00 and even more so in ’04. However a look at an electoral map should have given them a heads up: it’s only in areas of particularly dense population that Democratic philosophies gain traction. By land mass, the United States overwhelmingly embraces Republican political philosophies (as difficult as those philosophies are to define when you have a Republican President who spends more and grows government larger than any Democrat has).
It must be tough times indeed for any clear-eyed Democratic supporter: circumstances have aligned in a way that ought to leave them planning a victory parade rather than worrying about the messy business of campaigning. And yet, the more the voters learn of their candidate, the worse the poll results become. Meanwhile, in a climate ripe for a message of change, the Democratic candidate finds himself up against an opponent who has more (and proven) credibility as an actual change agent.
At heart, most Americans really just want the government to leave them alone and let them get about the business of working hard and providing for their own needs and the needs of their families. For these voters, the only thing worse than being told what to do is being told what to do by the government, regardless of how elequently those orders are conveyed…