We live in unusual times. While most of my Leftist friends refuse to admit it, the Obama Administration tilted far to the left: ObamaCare became the biggest government program since the 1960s. The “Life of Julia” and Pajama Boy represented the promise of Obama’s paternalistic government. Administrative agencies like the EPA, the Consumer Protection Bureau and the FCC enacted and administered laws, and then assessed penalties on violators – acting as judge, jury and executioner. Universities, once bastions of free speech, became temples of intolerance toward those who dared speak freely against accepted norms. The Administration compartmentalized voters, deepened divisions and then plumbed the subsequent fractious behavior for political advantage.
Mr. Obama backed away as leader of the free world – leading from behind in Libya, doing nothing as Russia annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine. He ignored Assad’s crossing of his “red line” in Syria, and watched as China invaded, then developed airbases on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. He opened the door to Cuba, but ignored its human rights’ violations. Israel was isolated and North Korea continued its nuclear program. He stood by as Venezuela sank into dissolution, and provided Iran the time and means to develop nuclear weapons. Despite Islamic attacks at home, Mr. Obama never called Islamic terrorism by name, for fear of offending Muslims.
The seeds that were sown by those on the far Left – coastal elites, academic chauvinists, environmental militants, vacuous minds from the world of entertainment, a potpourri of constituents that had been segregated for easy access, and millions of people dependent on the largesse of government – are now reaping the whirlwind. The consequence: for six years, Republicans have picked up State legislative seats and governorships, indicating that people want government to protect their God-given rights, not to take them away. It has been a trend ignored by the Left.
There have always been fringe elements on the Right, like white supremacists and knuckle-dragging anti-evolutionists, but they never dominated the Republican Party. The Left argues that the Tea Party is far-right, but they want a smaller, less authoritarian government. They argue that George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were far-right, but, for both, practical politics came before ideology. Consider the bi-partisan support their major legislative initiatives received in Congress. Can you imagine a Republican Speaker of the House with the idiotic, supercilious hollowness of Nancy Pelosi? – “We must pass this bill to find out what’s in it.” Can you imagine a Republican getting away with the lies told by Hillary Clinton about Benghazi, or the promises Mr. Obama made about being able to keep your doctor and your health plan if you prefer? The lies and exaggerations of Mr. Trump are childish and silly, but they do not undermine our democracy. Can you picture an ex-Republican President starting an advocacy group designed to undermine his successor? Can you imagine the media giving a pass to a Republican candidate for President who was counseled for twenty years by a bigot like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright?
The Left has long played identity politics for political advantage, creating envy and dispelling pluralism. Newspapers no longer disguise their preferences, nor do cable or network TV. But they and Mr. Obama have not operated in isolation. Talk radio preaches to the converted. Real news and fake news have proliferated, with no distinction made. C-SPAN was created thirty-eight years ago, with the intent to make government more open to the people. But there have been unintended consequences. Today it is available in 100 million homes, which means that when individual Senators and Representatives address their respective bodies they talk less to each other and more to those who elected them. In 1980, CNN became the first twenty-four-hour news station. Today, Wikipedia lists sixty-one such news stations. Partisanship has long been a reality, but its worst tendencies were accentuated by Mr. Obama.
But, back to the road not taken. If Democrats in Congress had tempered Mr. Obama’s most radical instincts, if they had guided him toward a more centrist path, they (and we) wouldn’t be in the pickle we are. (Or, if you prefer, have the opportunities we do!) Mr. Trump tapped into a backlash against an increasingly omnipotent federal government: ObamaCare belied its promise of choice. Excessive regulation impeded economic growth. For the first time in our history more small-businesses failed than started. Big banks got bigger, while small ones disappeared. Racism increased and wealth and income gaps widened. Democrats did not help their cause with the ethically-challenged Mrs. Clinton, but neither did Republicans with a political novice and wild card. The reasons another Democrat did not follow Mr. Obama were due to his abandonment of the American worker and the anti-liberal policies of his Administration.
President Clinton, who I found morally repugnant, moved the Democratic Party toward the center. Working with a Republican-led House, he signed the Welfare Reform Bill, which required welfare recipients to work; a Balanced Budget Agreement, which strengthened the Medicare Trust Fund; and the Landmark Education Investment Act, which doubled investment in education technology and increased funding to charter schools. Together, he and Congress created 20 more Empowerment Zones and 20 additional rural Enterprise Communities, which helped private sector job growth. Together, they encouraged NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe. It was Mr. Clinton’s ethical lapses, not his policies, that hurt Mr. Gore’s prospects in 2000.
I wonder if Democrats today, like Robert Frost in 1920, ponder on how different things might have been had they, in 2008, taken the middle road? Frost was satisfied with his choice. Are Democrats with theirs? The fact that Mr. Obama has formed a community organizing project, a 501(c)3 called Organizing for Action, linked to George Soros and with a training manual to challenge his successor with constant protests – itself a first – suggests no lesson has been learned, at least not by him or his disciples.