NEW YORK--We all knew the Republican sweep was coming. Democrats are taking solace in history. It's the midterms. The party that holds the White House always loses seats in Congress. Look at Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. They suffered midterm defeats, then won landslide reelections two years later. Not to worry. The voters will vote against the other party next time.
Remember what happened to Clinton after the "Republican Revolution" of 1994? He spent 1995 locked in a bizarre "co-presidency" with House Speaker Newt Gingrich before figuring out that his "partner" was more interested in obstructionist sabotage than bipartisanship. Barack Obama is heading down the same bloody path with Rep. John Boehner.
If Obama was going to shine, it was going to be during 2009. Elected by a sizable margin with an undeniable, media-backed mandate for change during a severe economic crisis he could exploit to push through his agenda, Obama also enjoyed the rare luxury of a Democratic House of Representatives and a nearly filibuster-proof Democratic Senate.
So what does he have to show for it?
One: a health-care overhaul that increases premiums and insurance company profits and doesn't include the public option he and everyone else said was absolutely essential.
Two: a financial reform package no one knows about. Which is just as well, since it doesn't crack down on the banksters.
Three: more dead Afghans.
What killed the Obama presidency? First and foremost, the economy. Sixty percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Republicans told exit pollsters that the lack of jobs was their No. 1 issue. Obama never proposed a jobs program. He gave trillions of tax dollars to thieving banksters who ought to have been arrested instead, then tried to pass off this outrageous giveaway as economic stimulus.
Second, he alienated his base.
Obama's campaign was a potent mix of vague pablum and, when he deigned to specify, center-right specifics. But the vagueness that helped him cobble together a winning coalition of leftist and independent voters made it impossible for him govern. Leftists got turned off when he doubled down in Afghanistan and refused to close Guantanamo; independents are notoriously fickle anyway.
Moreover, the world changed between September and November 2008. Global capitalism collapsed. Millions of Americans lost their jobs and their homes during the next year. Wall Street, bankers, big business, the golden boys of the previous century, were discredited--but unpunished for their countless sins. By mid-2009 America had become a left-wing country, not in the media but among the citizenry, telling polls that their preferred economic system was socialism.
The inarticulate rage of the inchoate Tea Party caught the president by surprise. Neither Obama nor the political clones that form his center-right cabinet can see that in a binary political culture anger gravitates to the opposite pole. If Obama were Republican, the Tea Party would be identified with the left.
The takeaway is anger, not ideology. People are pissed. They hate the bailouts, but bailouts aren't the point. The American people are angry that their government doesn't even pretend to give a damn about them.