“Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan,” said John F. Kennedy. The self-serving behavior of Democratic pols since Hillary’s loss adds credence to that observation. Look at how they eagerly explain the defeat away as a failure peculiar to Hillary. She “didn’t know why” she was running, says Joe Biden. They console themselves with the spin that defects in Hillary’s personality, not in their policies, account for the loss.
Still wrapped up in his self-image of wonderfulness, Obama says that he would have won the election. Even though he had campaigned for Hillary on the pitch that she would continue his glorious policies, he refuses to see her defeat as a repudiation of his “vision” and remains “confident that, if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it.”
Never mind that his coattails disintegrated whenever Democrats grabbed at them. They have suffered sweeping defeats at every level of government during his presidency.
Obama was useless to Hillary in any of the states that she needed to win. If anything, Hillary’s defeat makes Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 look almost like flukes — a function not of the strength of his “vision” but of the weakness of his Republican opponents.
Hillary would have done better, if she had repudiated his presidency and promised a dramatic change. Instead, she ran on a feeble platform of continuity, which opened her up to repeated broadsides from Trump as a proxy for “Obama’s third term.”
Just as the malaise of the Carter years made Reagan’s campaign of nationalistic revival possible, so the failures of Obama gave potency to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. From the shambles of Obama’s “fundamentally transformed” America came all of Trump’s signature issues. He spent as much time on the campaign trail talking about Obama as Hillary.
The most popular chants at the Trump rallies — from “build the wall” to “repeal and replace” — derived from the failures of Obama’s policies. Indeed, it is hard to think of any defining issues in the campaign that didn’t result from Obama’s “vision.”
The racial division Obama stoked through his support for the politics of Al Sharpton made it possible for Trump to campaign on promises of restoring respect to “law enforcement” and restoring “law and order.” The insecurity Obama created through his weak response to Islamic terrorism made it possible for Trump to campaign on “knocking the hell out of ISIS” and “extreme vetting” of immigrants from radical Islamic countries. The climate-change activism of Obama made it possible for Trump to campaign on saving the jobs of coal miners and expanding the energy sector.
The spike in healthcare premiums during the waning days of the campaign, thanks to Obamacare, made it easy for Trump to rail against it. When Bill Clinton criticized Obamacare on the campaign trail, he was told to knock it off. But if Hillary had followed her husband’s lead rather than Obama’s, she might have done better. She lost not because she deviated from Obama’s vision but because she slavishly conformed to it.
Biden and Obama imply that Hillary lost touch with the white working class. But when did they ever have a direct line to it? They, too, had contempt for the “basket of deplorables.” Recall Obama promising to bankrupt coal companies, straighten out all those people clinging bitterly to their “God and guns,” and his lecturing of Joe the Plumber on the virtues of redistributionism. Obama and Biden lucked out in that they ran against a weak opponent who was too politically correct to expose their elitism and condescension.
The same Joe Biden who campaigned with Sandra Fluke, who officiates at gay weddings, who said the Republicans would put blacks “back in chains” is suddenly an expert again on reaching out to working-class folk. They are not “sexist” or “racist,” he now says, after eight years of promoting Obama’s politics of division and demagoguery.
Meanwhile, Obama implies that the working class didn’t reject his message but its messenger. It must rankle Hillary that Obama is saying that she didn’t try hard enough (“If you think you’re winning, then you have a tendency, just like in sports, maybe to play it safer,” he said), and she must detect in his patronizing post-mortem the same mocking notes from his primary campaign against her in 2008 (“You’re likable enough,” he said in one debate).
Obama claims that he wants Democrats to do a better job of “bleeding” alongside of the working class and assuring them that “we understand why they’re frustrated.” But what is the ultimate source of the frustration? It is his insulting ideology. His “legacy was on the ballot,” a phrase he used during the campaign and now no doubt regrets, and the people rejected it.