Last week America blew a raspberry at the House "stimulus" bill. The Wall Street Journal edit page reckoned it out at about 12 percent stimulus. What about the other 88 percent? It was mostly the usual liberal special-interest spending, 40 years of pent-up pet projects. Things looked so bad that the Journal's other edit page, the liberal news side, decided to put out a calming analysis piece. Obama aides "say this is a baseball game in its early innings, or a football game at halftime," Gerald F. Seib assured us. You'd think the Democrats would do a better job of camouflaging their real agenda, given the effort they have put, starting with the 2006 mid-term elections, into wooing the middle class. According to pollster Alex Lundry, "middle class" is the number one positive thing that people associate with Democrats. But the stimulus bill proves that it's not about the middle class. It's about the Democratic patronage state. Always was, always will be.
You wonder: what did the Obama people think they were doing allowing the House Democrats to come up with this monster? They must have understood that the great American middle class, the folks that don't have big credit-card balances, that don't have unaffordable mortgages, that do shell out for health insurance would expect President Obama to deliver on post-partisan and fast. Voters were told that the new administration of President Obama was going to put the corruption and the partisan wrangling of the Clinton-Bush years behind us and clean up government. But right now it looks like same-old-same-old. Now the president will be faced with a bunch of horse-trading if he hopes to get a fig-leaf of Republican support for the Democratic special-interest payoff bill.
How does this politics-as-usual affect the voters? According to Michael Barone, Republicans did dismally with black and young voters in 2008. In addition, the "affluent suburbs" have gone Democratic too. He uses that information to propose that Republicans should "go upscale" when looking for votes in the future. Forget downscale and Sarah Palin, he urges. Go where the votes are.
But Barone's election data could be telling a different tale. You could just as well say that upscale voters were giving Barack Obama a try because they could afford to. They wanted to show that enlightened people like them were ready to elect an African American to the presidency. Combine that with a certain Pharisee attitude towards Christian conservatives and it was easy to vote for Obama.
That was then; this is now. If President Obama were to govern as just a politics-as-usual liberal, unable to break out of the identity politics of the Democratic party, those upscale voters could be voting Republican as soon as 2010. People with skills and a well-tended 401(k) can afford to take a risk or two, but not when it threatens their children's futures.
A couple of weeks ago President Obama called for a new era of responsibility, a Responsibility Nation. Yet across the street last week in Rights Nation, House Democrats passed a huge bill that established new rights to health care that Americans could claim against their fellow citizens. Which message are Americans supposed to believe in?
It's not just a two message problem; it's a Two America thing.
The vast majority of upscale Americans, particularly those that work in the non-union private sector, live a life that you never see on the MSM, and you never hear about from a liberal politician. They work in Ownership Nation where they are encouraged to "own" problems and solve them rather than squabble about who was to blame. It's different in the political world of government and unionized work-places. In political Blame Nation you get ahead by sticking the blame on the other guy before he gets a chance to blame you.
Most ordinary people work in Team America. They are trained to work in teams, competing according to the rules against other teams. It's different in the political world of government and unionized work-places. There you'll find Gang America, where you stick together, go along to get along, to game the rules and loot the system.
What are upscale Americans to think when the leader of a political party--the one that gangs up on Ownership America to fund its endless programs--tells us work responsibly?
What are ordinary Americans to think when the leader of a political party--the one that blames greedy bankers for the mortgage meltdown and gets VIP Friends of Angelo loans--wants America to work together like a team?
After twelve years of a Republican Congress and eight years of President Bush upscale voters were fed up with Republicans and ready for a change. They wanted hope, change, and serious attention to the nation's problems. Since the September collapse of Lehman Brothers they have been expecting that the politicians who coo about hope, change, and the middle class would get serious and urgently fix the economy.
But when the new administration fumbles the ball on the first play of the game, Americans have a right to wonder what they voted for. Upscale Americans might want to call in their bets on a pleasing young man and might forget the snobbish attitudes they had about social conservatives. Upscale or downscale, can't Aspirational America just get along?
One thing is for sure. The Obama administration is starting out with plenty of rookie mistakes, rather like the presidency of another young Democrat sixteen years ago.