Barack Obama resorted to his tired car-in-the-ditch analogy throughout the campaign season even as he resembled a delusional motorist who barrels towards traffic while insisting to his frightened passengers that the oncoming drivers are on the wrong side of the road.
Now even after the crash, as his electric car appears almost wheel-less, he continues to complain about the poor driving of others. At last week's press conference, he more or less pledged to keep driving into the oncoming traffic. He renewed his commitment to a "green" economy, a redistributionist federal government, and the boutique causes of the social left.
The level of denial among Democrats about the meaning of the election remains impressively high, even a week later. It is reminiscent of David Axelrod's astute post-election analysis after the Democrats lost the Virginia governorship in 2009. Axelrod said that Republican Bob McDonnell had won as a "Barack Obama centrist," and that it would be "politically disastrous" for the Republicans to hew rightward. Axelrod worried about the "purge of moderates" from the party.
It is customary for the Democratic and Republican parties to exchange unsolicited "advice" with each other. The Democrats advise Republicans to move leftward, the Republicans advise Democrats to move rightward. The difference is that the Republican advice—allow pro-lifers to speak at your conventions, don't ostracize the Zell Millers, etc.—would actually help the Democrats politically. But the acceptance of Democratic advice would prove substantively and politically dumb. Had the Republicans followed it after 2008, they would have sealed their minority status and hung harmful legislation around their necks for years to come.
Country Club California Republicans took the advice of the media and Democrats during the 2003 Recall and parachuted a liberal celebrity into the governorship, who now leaves office with job approval ratings as anemic as Gray Davis's. Winning with a liberal is always more politically costly to the Republicans over the long term than losing with a conservative. This is why even the relatively few Tea Party losses contain hope. They were at least losses in the right direction. But the "victory" of Schwarzenegger crippled the California GOP for future races.
Obama, meanwhile, thought it prudent to leave the country after the election. But his Ich Bin Indonesian speech this week isn't likely to help him regain his political footing. "Indonesia is part of me," he said in Jakarta. So a week after his party suffered historic losses, he is first seen dancing in India, then delivering speeches in Indonesia that re-stimulate doubts about his religion and identification with America. The one nod to his PR problems in this department was to call himself a "Christian visiting a mosque on this visit," which he also went out of his way to note was "designed by a Christian architect."
He spoke of Indonesia as a model of well-adjusted Islam, though the fact that a Muslim state political minister in the receiving line says he didn't want to touch his wife's hand undercut the message a bit. He congratulated Indonesian Muslims on their progress and tolerance, but that raises a question: How much is he actually doing to help reformist Muslims there?
Last October, the Washington Post ran a story about the U.S. government's decision to stiff-arm reformist Muslims in Indonesia rather than risk the wrath of hard-line imams: "As Indonesia debates Islam's role, U.S. Stays Out: Post-9/11 push to boost moderates gives way."
The story identified Barack Obama's mother as a kind of pioneer of this policy. In the early 1980s, a scholar seeking funds to promote a discussion about the need to moderate Islam went to the Jakarta office of the Ford Foundation for grant money. He was turned down by Obama's mom.
"He left empty handed. The United States, he was told, was 'not interested in getting into Islam,'" said the story. "The rebuff came from President Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, a U.S. anthropologist who lived in Indonesia for more than a decade."
The story continued that "U.S. thinking has moved back toward what it was in Dunham's day: stay out of Islam."
At the University of Indonesia, Obama repeated the line that America is "not at war with Islam," which is a swipe at his predecessor. But according to the story mentioned above, George W. Bush did more to help moderate Muslims in Indonesia than Obama ever has. (Those post-9/11 efforts were abandoned after Muslim clerics complained. "Indonesia's council of clerics, enraged by what it saw as a U.S. campaign to reshape Islam, issued a fatwa denouncing 'secularism, pluralism and liberalism,'" says the story.)
On this issue, like so many others, Obama is all words and no deeds. But at the same time the great communicator of the Democratic Party continues to say that he lost the House of Representatives due to his inability to communicate.
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