Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Taking stock this second Christmas after the election of Barack Obama to the presidency -- as a conservative Republican (with growing "tea party" tendencies) -- I'm filled with a thrilling, unexpected hopefulness that the president may be well on his way to losing his battle for the hearts and minds of the American people -- tempered by a shocked disbelief that so much long-term damage could be perpetrated on our economy, national security and way of life in just 11 months of ill-judged governance.
Inevitably, Charles Dickens' immortal opening sentence to "A Tale of Two Cities" comes to mind:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way."
Remarkably, this view could apply as equally to the left as it does to the right. Obama first thrilled and then disappointed and now enrages the left with his policies of (as they now see it): 1) giving the banks, health insurance companies, drug companies, for-profit hospitals and Washington lobbyists everything they want, 2) doing nothing for middle-class homeowners and 3) escalating the war in Afghanistan.
Of course, conservatives are appalled at (among other things) the trillions in new deficits, the nationalizations, the trillion-dollar partisan slush fund (i.e., stimulus packages), the attempted federal government takeover of the private economy via carbon taxing and regulating, the weakening of our anti-terrorism efforts, the never-ending worldwide apology tour, the undercutting of our allies while our enemies are appeased, and the ongoing effort to destroy our health care system and replace it with a socialized, rationing European-style system.
Remarkably, the president cannot even credibly make the claim that if he has the left and right agitated, it is because he is going down the sensible middle. The Dec. 9 Quinnipiac poll mirrors what other polls are showing: Obama is losing the independents, too. In that poll, overall, the president's approval and disapproval were 46 percent and 44 percent, respectively. However, with independents, he was at 37 percent approval and 51 percent disapproval.
Of course, for both the left and the right, all our hopes and dreads hinge on how an increasingly volatile American public expresses itself on Election Day. Currently, in head-to-head polling of generic party voting intentions, the Republicans, who had been steadily down by double digits (and by as much as 18 percent) to the Democrats, in the past few months have surged to a 2-3 percent advantage (RealClearPolitics' latest average: 43.3 to 41 percent).
But all is not solidity on the right. In one of the more remarkable entrances into American politics, the "tea party" movement, which did not exist until spring, already has gained a second-place affiliation status in Scott Rasmussen's poll. Last month's numbers: Democratic Party, 36 percent; "tea party," 23 percent; Republican Party, 18 percent.
That number is, if anything, probably understated, because the polling respondents are taken from voter registration lists. And based on what I have observed while attending "tea party" events (and from other sources), it is my sense that many "tea party" people may not even have registered to vote in the past. (They are registering now, by golly.)
Keep in mind that they have no national leaders -- no billionaire Ross Perot type, no nationally admired Barry Goldwater type. Of course, individuals are stepping up across the country to help organize. But they are the purest example of what Thomas Jefferson might have called an aroused yeomanry (back then, the small freeholders who cultivated their own land). They are a reaction (in the very best sense of the word) to the ongoing attempted power grab by Washington of a free people's wealth and rights.
In the aftermath of the economic collapse and the election of a glamorous young president -- who seemed to many people to be a fresh force, unentangled with entrenched special interests (emphatically not my view, during the election or afterward) -- the country could have gone one of two ways: Fearing the rigors of economic hard times, people could have sought shelter under the wing of a stronger government (as Americans did during the Great Depression), or fearing the power of government, they could have sought shelter in freedom -- come what may economically.
It may turn out to be one of the most important facts of the 21st century that the American people -- as exemplified by, but not limited to, the "tea party" fighters -- came down on the side of freedom over fear. I don't know that there is another people on the planet who would have had a similar impulse and judgment. It is, to use a word, exceptional (as in "American exceptionalism").It is why we live in hope this Christmas season that we may yet claw back our government in time to protect our grandchildren's freedom and prosperity.
"Yet, Freedom! yet thy banner, torn, but flying,
Streams like the thunder-storm against the wind." -- Lord George Gordon Byron
Tony Blankley is executive vice president of Edelman public relations in Washington .
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