When I get the chance, I spend my Saturday mornings listening to the Flashback radio program on my all-time favorite station, WXRT in Chicago. Each week the show picks a year between 1965 and 1996 and plays music from that year only for 4 hours. As it happens, today they have chosen 1977.
One of the reasons I like Flashback is that WXRT picks the best music of the year and ignores some of the more dire stuff. That's a good approach to music, because that means you get to hear Sir Duke and Hotel California, but you can avoid Andy Gibb and Leo Sayer. You also get to hear artists and music from 1977 that might not have reached your ears at the time, like Talking Heads, Joan Armatrading, Cheap Trick and Iggy Pop. When it comes to music, a selective memory isn't such a bad thing.
When it comes to politics, having a selective memory is a lot more problematic. 1977 was the dawn of the Carter era. If you're old enough to remember the 1970s you know that the Carter era did not end well. The memories seem to be returning to some erstwhile supporters of our current president, such as the normally sober observers at The Economist, who have, ahem, noticed a few things as of late (H/T: Captain Ed).
HILLARY CLINTON’S most effective quip, in her long struggle with Barack Obama
for the Democratic nomination last year, was that the Oval Office is no place for on-the-job training. It went to the heart of the nagging worry about the silver-tongued young senator from Illinois: that he lacked even the slightest executive experience, and that in his brief career he had never really stood up to powerful interests, whether in his home city of Chicago or in the wider world. Might Mrs Clinton have been right about her foe?
Well, yeah, executive experience would have been a helpful thing to have. But there's more:
His performance has been weaker than those who endorsed his candidacy, including this newspaper, had hoped. Many of his strongest supporters—liberal columnists, prominent donors, Democratic Party stalwarts—have started to question him. As for those not so beholden, polls show that independent voters again prefer Republicans to Democrats, a startling reversal of fortune in just a few weeks. Mr Obama’s once-celestial approval ratings are about where George Bush’s were at this stage in his awful presidency. Despite his resounding electoral victory, his solid majorities in both chambers of Congress and the obvious goodwill of the bulk of the electorate, Mr Obama has seemed curiously feeble.
None of this should be surprising to anyone who remembers the 1970s. The Democratic Party hasn't changed in any appreciable way since Lyndon Johnson. And one of the continuing patterns in American politics ever since then has been that the Democrats are most popular when they are unable to enact their preferred policies. When they get power, as they did in 1976 and 1992, they inevitably lose it quickly. While it's possible that pattern will not hold this time, there are excellent reasons to believe that 2010 will be a good year for the GOP.
One of the things that's been most amusing about the past few months is watching Obama supporters come to the realization that, hey, the guy is a liberal after all. But it's still tough for these Obama supporters to get past their cognitive dissonance:
Though he campaigned as a centrist and promised an era of post-partisan government, that’s not how he has behaved. His stimulus bill attracted only three Republican votes in the Senate and none in the House. This bodes ill for the passage of more difficult projects, such as his big plans for carbon-emissions control and health-care reform. Keeping those promises will soon start to bedevil the administration. The Republicans must take their share of the blame for the breakdown. But if Mr Obama had done a better job of selling his package, and had worked harder at making sure that Republicans were included in drafting it, they would have found it more difficult to oppose his plans.
Yep, he's a liberal. Still, the Economist believes that Republicans must take their share of the blame for the breakdown. Why? Carbon-emissions control and health-care reform are not things that Republicans support. Nor should they. But it gets worse for poor Obama -- he's being betrayed by his own party!
If Mr Obama cannot work with the Republicans, he needs to be certain that he controls his own party. Unfortunately, he seems unable to. Put bluntly, the Democrats are messing him around. They are pushing pro-trade-union legislation
(notably a measure to get rid of secret ballots) even though he doesn’t want them to do so; they have been roughing up the bankers even though it makes his task of fixing the economy much harder; they have stuffed his stimulus package and his appropriations bill with pork, even though this damages him and his party in the eyes of the electorate. Worst of all, he is letting them get away with it.
This is all nonsense, of course. Obama supports card check and his bobos have been quite vocal in bashing financiers of all stripes, except this guy. He hasn't done much of anything about the pork except grouse a little bit when he signed bills filled with it. But it's all Kabuki.
It's tough on those Obama supporters at the Economist, who end up begging for him to come to his senses:
But Mr Obama has a long way to travel if he is to serve his country—and the world—as he should. Take the G20 meeting in London, to which he will head at the end of next week. The most important task for this would-be institution is to set itself firmly against protectionism at a time when most of its members are engaged in a game of creeping beggar-thy-neighbour. Yet how can Mr Obama lead the fight when he has just pandered to America’s unions by sparking a minor trade war with Mexico? And how can he set a new course for NATO at its 60th-anniversary summit a few days later if he is appeasing his party with talk of leaving Afghanistan?He can't do these things, because he is not a transformational figure. He is, at bottom, a very conventional Democrat. He is doing what his party does. We saw it in 1977, when a new president made symbolic changes but didn't project strength in doing so. We can avoid the bad music of 1977, but we shouldn't expect the politics to get any smarter when we keep electing the same orchestra, no matter how outwardly impressive the fellow at the podium is.