The liberal response to what seems like an impending reversal of liberal fortunes has been striking. The rise in G.O.P. prospects could not possibly have anything to do with the rational appeal of G.O.P. ideas. No, secret political donors are behind it, or pointless rage, or “structural” reasons like the Newtonian tendency of midterm elections to favor the party out of power.
And G.O.P. success could not possibly have anything to do with the present occupant of the White House. No, he is responsible for liberal failure, but not for conservative success. Our criticisms of what some on the left please themselves to see as President Obama’s shallow compromising and lack of resolve are legitimate. Their criticisms of his character and worldview are demented.
As someone who believes that the radical right would turn back the clock on American progress 100 years, I am as horrified as any liberal as I watch John Boehner, with that inhuman baby-blue gaze of his, prepare to become speaker of the House. But I am not shocked. Though the new right’s arguments for limited government appall me, I don’t find them beyond moral comprehension. I even understand why they would appeal to many people. For some of my liberal friends, an idea they find morally odious means it is impossible that anyone could find it morally attractive, unless that person is a moral imbecile. For these liberals, a fact they find ethically repulsive must not be respected as a fact.
The Republicans have become the centrifugal party, embracing more and more diverse types of people way out of the mainstream of established politics. I am not saying that is good; I am saying that it is a fact. Two years ago, with the election of Mr. Obama, the Democrats became the centripetal party, more and more committed to a narrow sense of its own moral rightness and purity. That is not good.
The current mess began with the election of an inexperienced, unqualified man whose entire career was the product of race-based quotas and liberal guilt and who–incredibly–bore a Muslim name and came to power at a time when America was at war with half the Muslim world. I say this as someone who’s pro-Park 51 mosque, as a believer in mixed-race marriage as one of democracy’s best hopes, as a proponent of protections for illegal immigrants, gay marriage, single-payer health care, higher taxes for the wealthy, an expansion of social entitlements and an immediate end to the Afghanistan war.
But I’m still as angry as the angriest Tea Partier.
I despise the birthers, and the racists, and the people who have been trying to associate President Obama with an anti-American outlook rooted in anti-colonialism and/or socialism. Yet when everyone was talking about Mr. Obama’s friendship with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, and about Michelle’s remark after her husband’s victory that she was finally “proud” of America, and Mr. Obama’s remark about “bitter” people who “cling to their guns or religions or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them,” and Mr. Obama’s sit-down with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and that white Cambridge cop after Obama’s ludicrous comment on that altercation–when such inanity filled the airwaves, I clutched my head in despair. I understood the traumas of black experience in America; I knew the complacent–hardly enraged–post-colonialist, multicultural, universally condescending atmosphere at Columbia in the 1980s when Obama was there, since I was there, too, and witnessed the social and professional rewards for conforming to it; I knew that Obama had hit on a truth about certain types of Americans. But why, I asked myself, why oh why were we talking about such alienating postures now, at a moment when race and the question of radical-left sympathies had no relevance?
Here was an utterly atypical candidate, who would become an utterly atypical president trying to pass what was, in the context, an utterly radical agenda. As someone who resented President George W. Bush’s dynastic inheritance of the White House, I could understand someone else’s resentment of our president’s ascension on the wings of affirmative action sentiment. I could understand the perception of Mr. Obama’s arrogance riding defensively on his incompetence and inexperience.
And so the disenchantment began, and got worse. As President “Being There” insecurely assumed the mantle of power, he withdrew into a fantasy of compensatory virtue shrouded in clouds of self-congratulatory rhetoric. He didn’t address the country from the Oval Office until 18 months had gone by, when, in such despairing economic circumstances, he should have been speaking from that intimate space on a regular basis. The divisive fray around the health care debate was too much for Mr. Big Thinker’s delicate sensibility, so he withdrew from it entirely into brooding depression until it was too late. He let irresolute months go by before deciding on whether to continue the war in Afghanistan. He allowed two seats on the Federal Reserve Board to go empty, also for months, as the Fed faced urgent questions of policy.
As I said, I share the intensity of Tea Party rage. Eight years of pent-up fury at a criminal Bush regime produced a rarefied Democratic symbol rather than a real Democratic leader.
Two years ago, at the time of Mr. Obama’s inauguration and just months after the onset of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, all Mr. Obama could talk about was “healing” divisions, while the liberal commentariat went on and on about the historic election of our first black president. You would have thought that racial discord was the emergency confronting us, and not shattering economic displacement. “Obamanos!” exulted one knuckledheaded book at the time, as Americans were losing their homes and their jobs. (“I’ve followed the Obama phenomenon with the tracks of my tears,” wrote the author, the self-dazzled Hendrik Hertzberg.) Is it any wonder people are furious?
Reap the whirlwind, my liberal friends. Horrible as Tuesday’s result will no doubt be (I am writing this one day before the election), if it guarantees Mr. Obama’s retirement at the hands of a truly qualified Democratic candidate from outside the insular orbit of liberal moral vanity, well, then Democratic defeat will not be a total loss.