Monday, April 15, 2013

After Thatcher And Obama

After Thatcher And Obama

Here is a fun fact: following this past week’s death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the second most popular song in England was apparently “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead.”

And, a second one: there is going to be a Presidential election in November of 2016, and Barack Obama is not going to be on the ballot.  We will have to wait to see what runs up the pop charts.

The first fact is a testament to the enduring, and controversial legacy the Iron Lady left.  She is both revered and reviled, despite the more than twenty years that have passed since her own party showed her the door.

The second fact, the end of Mr. Obama’s Presidency, is one that has to be a sobering thought for the brain trusts of both parties.  Because, for four years and a few months, the Obama Presidency has been solely about Barack Obama. It hasn’t been about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it hasn’t been about guns, or immigrants, or abortion, or prayer in schools, or taxing and spending.  Nor about who built it, who was a taker or a maker, the 47%, the 1%, class warfare, education, climate change, socialism, drones, Gitmo, gays, or entitlements.  It hasn’t even been about Obamacare.  It has been about Barack Obama.  We have, collectively, poured all of our hopes, our apprehensions, our ambitions and our paranoia into one man.  He has been the lens through which every policy issue is seen and he is the boogieman under the bed.  Barack Obama is the physical embodiment of the atomization of our political culture.

Why Obama?  A friend, economically conservative but socially moderate, may have said it best.  Obama was a man he felt he had nothing in common with.  Not just racially, but where he came from, his friends and associates, the time he spent abroad, the exposure to Islamic cultures, the influence of socialist and even communist-leaning people in his formative years.

My friend is not an irrational kook or some partisan zealot, but he can’t help but feeling that if Obama does it, there is a secret hidden agenda, something subversive and totalitarian and freedom-destroying.  There is nothing in Obama he recognizes; Obama is an alien who cannot be trusted. 

In 2017, Obama will be gone.  He will give speeches, travel, write books, and build a library.   The media will do retrospectives, and historians will write appraisals, but he will still be gone.  One thing we know about Barack Obama is that he is no Bill Clinton, for good or bad. He may feel white-hot on the inside, but he’s a politician for a media age; on the outside, he burns cool.

When he is gone, the pall that his person casts over every policy debate will fade, and all the rest of us will be stuck with each other, and a host of unresolved issues, without the luxury of his personal lightening rod.   And, chances are, none of us are going to recognize the landscape.

The fact is that the country is changing, and it is changing rapidly.  It is not necessarily becoming more conservative or more liberal, because those labels have become little more than slogans or pejoratives. It is becoming different, as the population changes and moves.  Much has been made of the growth of immigrant (particularly Latino and Asian) populations, but that is only part of the story. What is also going on is generational, a passage from Depression-Era/WWII types to Boomers, to Gen X, and so on.  These are not merely age groups, they are attitude groups, and becoming a certain age does not necessarily transform one into a New Deal Democrat of Reagan Republican. 

So, too, has population movement, land development and suburbanization changed attitudes of the voting electorate. We all know the conventional story; how the South is a conservative Republican redoubt and how Northeastern Republicans are becoming an endangered species. But that is only a piece of it.  There is a fascinating story in the Washington Post by Philip Rucker and Paul Kane.  How did two conservative Senators (Manchin and Toomey) with A ratings from the NRA come to be the possible dealmakers on gun legislation?  The rapid growth of suburbs in historically gun-friendly states is forcing politicians to cater to the more centrist and pragmatic views of voters in subdivisions and cul-de-sacs as well as to constituents in shrinking rural hamlets where gun ownership is more of a way of life.”  Rucker and Kane looked outside Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and found similar trends in Georgia, Arizona, Colorado, and Virginia. 

What about those suburbanites?  They may best reflect where the center of the country is actually going: neither fish nor fowl when it comes to party identification.  They don’t like taxes, but they want their kids to go to good schools and have the garbage picked up.  They think government is too large and intrusive in the economic sector, but don’t care for the noisy scolding that emanates from the Right on social issues.  While the two parties hunker down in their ideological (and geographic) bunkers, a large segment of the population wonders why if you are for lower taxes, you must also be for burning books, and gays, at the stake.  Why can’t Washington just fix the things that don’t work, and leave us all alone for the rest of it?

Where does Obama fit in all this?  He is an accelerant, just like Thatcher was, but in an emotional rather than policy way.  Thatcher, in Barron’s Tom Donlan’s words in Barron’s Before Margaret Thatcher pushed her way into 10 Downing Street, the United Kingdom had two major political parties, both engaged in the country's longstanding class war. The Labour Party courted and served the lower class, the people who worked with their muscles. The Conservative Party represented the interests of the upper class, the people whose inheritances allowed them not to work. After Margaret Thatcher finished reorganizing the politics of her country, both major parties more closely represented and courted the middle class, the people who work with their brains to make money.”

Donlan is an economic conservative and an admirer of Thatcher; he skips over the collateral damage of Thatcher’s radical reforms.

Obama, by contrast, is a moderate draped in the radical costume others put on him. Witness what just happened when he introduced his budget.  For many months, he has been urged to put on the table, in writing, a credible compromise position.  Something that includes revenues and entitlement cuts.  Go big, he’s been told.  Show leadership!  Take risks! This he did.  Liberals all over the country let out a collective groan.  Labor was unhappy.  Seniors were unhappy.  Criticism flew in from all directions, much of it from the very same people who told him to go big in the first place. Naturally, the Republicans, displeased with a proposal that didn’t give them everything they would have received with a Mitt Romney Presidency, denounced it.  But, in the most appalling (typical, but appalling) moment, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) went on CNN to slam it “I thought it’s very intriguing in that his budget really lays out kind of a shocking attack on seniors, if you will.”

Think about that for a second.  The head of the NRCC plans to win Congressional seats in 2014 by criticizing Mr. Obama for doing the one thing Republicans (and even many non-partisan) commentators, have urged him to do; put entitlement reform in the discussion. 

What are these folks going to do when Obama’s not in office any more?  They can’t always think with their glands, can they?

Maybe they can.  Steve Stockman, Republican Congressman from Texas (you remember him, he’s the chap who invited Ted Nugent to be his guest at the State of the Union) tweeted the following:The best way to honor Baroness Thatcher is to crush liberalism and sweep it into the dustbin of history. What are you doing this morning?”

There’s a fun guy to invite to breakfast.