What Obama liberals didn't get

We need a new punchline to "What do you call a Republican Senate candidate from Massachusetts?" The old one was "Nobody calls him" or "You can't remember either?" I don't want to hear what they're calling him in the White House right now. But I'm calling him payback for a Nobel Peace Prize. And proof that I was right.

To my right-wing friends and colleagues, I told you Barack Obama was not as dangerous as you thought. Sure, he's far to the left and plausible. But he's also amazingly narrow, a stereotypical liberal always talking about other points of view who has never knowingly been in the presence of such a thing. And he lacks the political skills that made, say, FDR a menace to America economically and constitutionally.

To my left-wing friends (if any) and colleagues, I told you his agenda was neither well-thought out nor popular. Far too many commentators, like Obama himself, do not understand right-wing views intellectually or electorally. They assume everyone is, at heart, a Harvard professor, and they thought Americans had finally realized everything was George W. Bush's fault, boo hiss, let's have socialized medicine. In Canada, the short version was, "Finally, Americans have become Canadians," which was exceptionally silly.

At least no one is pretending Scott Brown's upset victory was a blip or a local aberration. The best line so far is The Patriot Post's "The Scott heard 'round the world" and there is no doubt this outcome has large implications. Not that Massachusetts has turned into Mississippi; the real punchline to my opening joke may well be "A Democrat," since Brown is pro-choice and once posed nude for Cosmopolitan. Not exactly a God and guns Republican. More a David Frum Republican ... but then David probably wishes the GOP would run Edward Brooke for president. Sorry, that's a Massachusetts Republican senator joke; Brooke, on the left fringe of the GOP anyway, lost their last Bay State Senate seat in 1979 (they haven't held both at once since 1953).

In the long run, this result might be less ominous for the Democrats than getting thumped in the Virginia governor's race two months ago. If Virginia is not becoming a swing state, as it seemed in 2008, it blasts their hopes of recovering majority party status, whereas no one supposes this outcome gives Massachusetts even a slight purple tinge.

But a Republican victory in a dark blue state is important. It underlines how badly Barack Obama is doing, in polls and by proxy in elections (and that's without yet having a major foreign policy disaster), because he overpromised and underdelivered domestically. I do not know who ever believed his clichés about nonpartisanship, pragmatism and changing Washington. But one man's pragmatism is another man's ideology, and when the product arrived, definitely not as shown in the ad, the clients' resulting disgust was hardly surprising given the product ... and the clients.

Americans sufficiently upset with George Bush to switch and vote his party out were generally unhappy that the economy was going sour, the budget was out of control and there was probably a connection between them. Remember: Bush never vetoed a big spending bill, a major reason the GOP got demoralized and was punished politically.

I do not say John McCain would have done better. But I do say that if Barack Obama had promised in 2008 the kind of spending Democrats produced in 2009, we would not be wondering how a McCain presidency would have gone. No one, especially not the swing voters who gave the balance of Congressional power to Blue Dog Democrats, wanted this before it happened or likes it now.

Americans are not immune to the lure of free money, especially my otherwise beloved Middle Americans. But they do insist it be free and, since it never is, a backlash is unavoidable and legitimate. They threw the bums out in 2008 the only way they could. But do not suppose their arms are now exhausted.

As for socialized medicine, some are making a big deal out of the Democrats now being one seat short of the 60 needed to ram health-care reform through the Senate. But if a party that still controls all three Houses (upper, lower and White) needs procedural tricks to pass supposedly popular legislation, then obviously it's not popular, for reasons so obvious only an intellectual needs them explained: It is intolerably complicated, will cost a fortune and will make U.S. health care worse.

The American people do not share the commentariat's cultural and economic radicalism and, unlike voters in other democracies, are not too demoralized to push back. And if commentators like diversity as much as they claim to, they should be happy.

What do I call a Republican Senate candidate from Massachusetts? Proof that the Republic is all right, and most commentators are all wrong.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson