The 2010 verdict

RealClearPolitics has posted the forthcoming Claremont Review of Books essay — “The 2010 verdict” — by Professor James Ceaser on the midterm elections. There is nothing better that has been published so far on the subject, and it is must reading in its entirety. I love this passage:

Republicans have agreed on the importance of the economy as part of the explanation for their victory. Yet in their account the anemic recovery is not unrelated to the core elements of Obama’s “change.” The problem in Obama’s approach has been his failure to appreciate what generates productive wealth, which comes not from bigger government and more spending but from the activity of private business and entrepreneurs. Economic “philosophy” in this large sense was in fact the main voting issue in this election. It was for this reason as well that Obama’s “populist” appeal against the big banks, Wall Street, the insurance companies, and the wealthy gained so little traction. While most Americans, including many on the right, were angered at “big business” and Wall Street, many also became convinced that Obama’s populism struck squarely at the sources that generate wealth. Even Obama’s plan to eliminate the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, considered by White House advisor to be a sure-fire winner as an electoral issue, made little headway. The economic question in the campaign went back to the great colloquy in 2008 between Barack Obama and Joe the Plumber. This time, however, Joe seemed to have the upper hand.
For many Republicans, and especially for the allies in the Tea Party movement, the issues of economic policy were also linked to a deeper concern. The size of government and the extent of the federal debt represented not only a burden on future generation and a threat to American power, but also a violation of the spirit and letter of the Constitution. The Tea Party in particular, with its belief in Jeffersonian ideas, has been responsible for re-introducing the Constitution into the public debate, a place that it has not held in the same way for over a century. This theme is what connects the Tea Party to the American tradition and makes their concerns matters of fundamental patriotism. The stakes in the 2010 election for these voters went far beyond economic questions, and for Democratic leaders to reduce everything to frustrations about the “Economy, Stupid” represents a final act of disparagement and belittlement.
There was accordingly an additional factor that played in this election outcome that was hardly noted or tested in the polls. It was a cultural clash between an elite and much of the public, between liberal intellectuals and the Obama administration on the one hand and the mass of Tea party activists on the other. The one has shown disdain and the other has responded with resentment. It is impossible, then, not to say that the person of Barack Obama was a major factor in this election, for when he was not himself the leader he became the frequent enabler of this dismissal of middle America. That Obama would have to descend from the lofty heights that he inhabited during the campaign and after his election was something that no sane observer, and no doubt Obama himself, could fail to have foreseen. But this loss of bloated charisma has never been the real problem. It has instead been his demeanor as president. Obama modeled himself on Abraham Lincoln, and it is painful in retrospect to draw the contrast in how they have behaved. One showed humility, the other arrogance; one practiced sincerity, the other hypocrisy; one made efforts at cultivating unity, the other seemed to delight at encouraging division: and one succeeded in becoming more and more a man of the people, while the other, despite his harsh populist appeals, has grown more distant.

You will want to read the whole thing.

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