Does Obama presidency signal the dawn of the new leftist America? Gerard Baker disagrees. I think he is right.
To begin with, the Democrats’ gains were not quite as comprehensive as they had hoped or as the structural political conditions would seem to have predicted. Senator Obama won a lopsided victory in the electoral college, thanks to quite narrow victories in a number of states, but his lead over his opponent in the popular vote (about 6 percentage points) was well short of landslide proportions.
Even as Senator Obama’s party was winning votes across the country, people were expressing strong support for conservative policies. In the most-watched ballot initiatives (plebiscites) on social issues in many states, there was little sign of a radical new beginning.
Voters in California, Florida and Arizona supported constitutional amendments to outlaw gay marriage. Voters in Arkansas banned adoption by unmarried couples. In Nebraska a measure to end affirmative action in state hiring practices passed easily.
Most remarkable of all, for all the transformation in US politics wrought by the last four years, Americans themselves do not seem to have undergone any great ideological conversion.
In 2004 exit pollsters asked voters how they would identify their politics. The answers were 21 per cent liberal (Left) 45 per cent moderate and 34 per cent conservative. On this election day, the same question elicited these responses: 22 per cent liberal; 44 per cent moderate and 34 per cent conservative.
President Obama and his jubilant supporters in Congress will surely not need reminding that this is still a centre-right country.
I think Obama is doomed on two fronts. His base is ultra-liberal. They will look to him to fulfil their aspirations, yet the voters at large have no great enthusiasm for ultra-liberal pet projects.
Obama is going to be trapped between the rock and the hard place. If he tries to stay true to his base he will alienate moderate and conservative voters who voted for him over McCain. The Democrat majority will be diminished in the next congressional elections in 2010, while he can be turfed out of the White House in 2012.
Yet if he tries to become a genuinely popular president with electoral longevity he will be screamed down as a traitor by the hardcore Democrat base. To them he will become just another Judas like Clinton representing more of the same.
Change you can believe in? I wouldn’t count on it.