Despite his deployment of every rhetorical weapon in the progressive arsenal, Obama could never make the thing popular. At town hall meetings, the bear growled and snorted, in a posture that the experienced psephological woodsman understands means “leave the bear alone.” The Democratic response was to mock the grizzly. Nancy Pelosi even called the town hall protesters “un-American.”
By July 2009, Gallup found Americans had attitudes that were “conspicuously incongruous with the results of the 2008 elections.” The 2010 midterm elections showed just how incongruous.
Of the myriad miscalculations made by Obama, among the most fateful has to be his assumption that a repudiation of George W. Bush was synonymous with a repudiation of conservatism. By election day in 2008, Bush’s approval rating was at 25%. You cannot get that low without losing a sizable slice of your base, particularly when self-described conservatives outnumber self-described liberals by roughly 2 to 1. It was their opposition to Bush’s big-government conservatism that made them the feedstock of the “tea parties.”
Obama probably understands this dynamic better as his own poll numbers sink not only among independents but with his base, which has convinced itself that his — and the country’s — problems stem from appeasing the conservative bear. Obama’s bizarre harangue of the Congressional Black Caucus on Saturday — “Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying” — was a testament to the cratering enthusiasm of his biggest supporters.
The dilemma for Obama is that non-liberals don’t see the situation the same way. As nearly every poll shows, more than 70% of Americans believe we’re on the wrong track, and the number of people calling themselves conservative continues to grow, as does the number of moderates who say they lean to the right. According to Pew, the average voter places himself twice as far from Democrats as he does from Republicans.