Watching the president’s approval ratings sink and hearing people regret their votes cast a year ago makes me consider the president’s failure to acknowledge the growing chorus of criticism of his policies. The tone deafness of his administration manifests itself from the refusal to compromise with the GOP on health care to the shrugging off of the losses of governorships in Virginia and New Jersey. Where Clinton kept a close watch on his polling numbers, Obama has shown a George W. Bush-like steadfastness against bowing to public pressure.
Obama was elected to bring change, and the president is well aware that change can be painful. But he understands that there is no danger to him for ramming through the most radical and unwanted parts of his agenda. His Gallup poll numbers might put him in the approval-rating cellar of post-war presidents, but the only poll that matters is still 3 years away – plenty of time to build a political legacy that will eventually become popular and reelect him, or leave a mark on the American polity that will be hard to erase by future administrations.
Either way, the president doesn’t care. He views himself as an historical figure and is driven by reshaping American society according to his ideals than he is staying in power. This is a fundamental difference between him and his predecessor Bill Clinton, and in my view shows that he has more in common with George W. Bush than any other recent president.
President Bush ignored popular opinion when it came to the War on Terror and the associated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But his fortitude in those areas contrast with his willingness to cut any deal – no matter how unpalatable from the perspective of his base – with the Democrats on domestic spending and other issues. Bush was an ideologue on Defense, but a politician in all other areas. This probably explains his success at reelection in 2004. Even though conservatives such as myself disagreed vehemently with his domestic agenda, it allowed him to peel away the hawkish independents from Kerry. After all, we weren’t going to stab him in the back and not vote for him when the deciding issue in the 2004 election was the Global War on Terror.
The danger is that where Bush showed a pragmatic side on issues unrelated to Defense, I have yet to see Obama don his deal-making hat and work with the Republicans. Where Bush got squishy with his domestic agenda, we might expect to see Obama act similarly over Defense – but it’s too early to judge whether that is the case. Granted he has followed the Surge recommendations of General McChrystal, the man Obama himself appointed to manage the war there, but only after an excruciatingly long decision. Republicans and hawkish conservatives have finally found something to agree with the President on, but it comes after a year of foreign policy mistakes around the world: apologizing, refusing to support the pro-democracy movements in Iran and Tibet, kowtowing to China and Russia, apologizing some more, bullying Israel and Honduras, patronizing Venezuela and Cuba, snubbing American allies like the UK, apologizing yet again.
If Obama is hoping to peel away enough hawkish independents over his foreign policy stance, then he’s got a long way to go. But I doubt he’s concerned with the 2012 election. To paraphrase a line from the Blues Brothers, he’s on a mission from God – although given his lack of spirituality, I doubt it’s god in the sense of the Jude0-Christian tradition. It’s History.
Obama sees himself as the peer of Abraham Lincoln – another president who defied the advice and opinion of others to do what he believed was right. Such a man on a “Divine Mission” is more than willing to sacrifice a governor or two this year, and perhaps even a House and Senate majority next year if History demands it. That’s why if I were a Republican strategist, I would be collecting all the pictures and videos of Democrats – and RINOs – shaking hands with Obama, tallying how often they voted for the President’s legislation, and preparing to flood the airways with these in campaign and 527 ads next Autumn (the RINOs should be targeted in next Spring’s primaries). When unemployment is in the double-digits and the President’s approval rating is in the basement there is a political term for these politicians: dead meat.
A president should have the ability to leave his mark on the nation, but he should never forget that he is ultimately there to serve the American people. A great leader leads by charming his charges into believing that his goals are really their own – not by forcing his ideas upon them whether they like it or not. The poll numbers showing the majority of Americans in opposition to everything from health care “reform” to global warming prove the president has taken the latter route. They show that Obama is at present not a great leader.