The Spectacle Blog

Why They Can’t Explain the Obama Backlash

By on 1.20.10 | 3:19PM

Democrats are having a heckuva time putting a positive spin on Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts yesterday — and the attempts frequently bridge the line between the plausible and the absurd.

Case in point: a column in the LA Times today by Tim Rutten. He rightly chides the Obama administration for taking on too much in its first year in power, but he goes on to argue that voter anger, typified by the Brown win, is just as much about small-government conservatives as big-government liberals:

[I]f the lessons gleaned from Massachusetts stop with healthcare, something far more profound and potentially disruptive will have been missed. There is a deep and increasingly restive anger stirring in the country. Its focal points at the moment may seem to be healthcare and "big government," but if there were a Republican in the White House, they might just as well be tax cuts and "limited government." The fact is that the president and both parties' congressional delegations have approval ratings under 50%.

I doubt you'll find many voters resentful at the prospect of more cash in their pockets through a tax cut, or shrinking bureaucracy in the federal government. On the other hand, voters are plenty resentful at the idea of a government takeover and a forced-health insurance plan.

The argument is almost as absurd as one made by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer quoted in The Hill yesterday. What voters are really ticked about, Hoyer said, is that Republicans are obstructing the health-care bill. If that were the case, Coakley would be the new junior Senator from Massachusetts. But it's not, and she's not.

Why can't liberals face the political reality that a sizeable percentage of the country — including many independents — despises the ramrod policies of the Obama administration and its allies in Congress? Part of the trouble is their mindset. They still think that 2008 signified a seismic shift in the political ideology of the American people. But polls show the nation still divided along the same conservative, liberal, and moderate divide that's existed for years — and self-identified conservatives continue to hold the edge.

Barack Obama might be in the Oval Office, but the nation hasn't changed that much. Democrats continue to govern as if it has. And that's going to haunt them this year, as it did yesterday in Massachusetts.

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