Robert Kagan recently wrote that, foreign policy decision by foreign policy decision, President Barack Obama has given Americans what they say they want. But the result hasn’t made them proud of America or of their president.
The same phenomenon may explain the disappointment in Obama’s domestic record.
Case by case overseas, Kagan suggested, Americans agree with Obama’s calls: pull out of Iraq, wind down i n Afghanistan, steer clear of Syria. But the emerging picture of an America in retreat, and a leader half-heartedly committed to promoting liberty, is not what they were looking for.
At home, the fateful moment came in 2011 when Obama cold-shouldered the bipartisan panel he had appointed to right the nation’s finances for the long term. That, too, was a decision in keeping with the polls.
The Simpson-Bowles commissionhad called for higher taxes and slower growth in Medicare and Social Security spending. Neither is popular. Had Obama endorsed the recommendations, Democrats would have forfeited their trustiest campaign weapon: warning oldsters that Republicans want to take away their retirement benefits and health care. Obama’s reelection in 2012 seems to vindicate his judgment.
But at what cost? He defeated a weak opponent by tearing him down as a job-killing plutocrat. He didn’t come close to regaining the control of the House that he lost in 2010. His second-term agenda is meager.
Now he stands in danger of losing the Senate, too. His weapon to ward that off is a poll-tested and cynical campaign against Republicans’ “war on women” — cynical because it overstates the wage gap between men and women, oversimplifies the cause of the problem that does exist and proposes an ostensible solution that wouldn’t reach the true causes.
Imagine instead that Obama had embraced the bipartisanship of Simpson-Bowles and tried to steer through Congress a package that made the tax system fairer and solved the nation’s long-term debt problem.