That’s what President Obama once told a reporter. If the man ever uttered a statement that spoke more to his approach to politics, I haven’t heard it.
Whether it stems from a grandiose overconfidence in his own powers of persuasion, or the lessons he took from his years as a community organizer, or his own messianic conviction that he is on the right side of everything, including history itself, the president has operated under the theory that he can move the American people to his causes. And he can’t. He just can’t.
Yes, he got elected and re-elected, and that’s saying something. But whatever personal popularity the man has doesn’t transfer to domestic policy.
It’s as if the American people are saying, “Mr. President, we’re just not that in to you.”
“What about healthcare reform!?” his fans invariably respond.
Well, what about it? Sure, it passed. But the Affordable Care Act didn’t become law because Obama ignited a populist prairie fire in favor of it. He dedicated vast, vast swaths of his time and energy trying to sell the American people on Obamacare. He never made the sale (and still hasn’t). The misbegotten law’s passage is attributable entirely to the fact that Democrats rammed it through Congress — with a 60-vote majority in the Senate — using the sorts of backroom deals and corporate giveaways the American people despise.
Ironically, the only populist mass movement on domestic policy issues Obama can claim credit for creating is the tea party, which I think we can all agree isn’t what he had in mind.
Indeed, if Obamacare had been popular, the Democrats wouldn’t have been dealt a “shellacking” — Obama’s words — in the 2010 midterm elections. But they were. Democrats suffered a defeat of biblical proportions, despite Obama’s relentless campaigning.
In 2012, after scoring an impressive re-election win, Obama apparently thought he solved the puzzle. He needed more organization, like he had in the election. Obviously everyone loves what he has to say, Obama reasoned, but he needed to translate that love into action. And so he rebranded his presidential campaign into his own personal grassroots operation, Organizing for Action. Action item No. 1? Gun control.
It’s worth remembering that when Obama took up gun control in his State of the Union address, he set the bar at shin level for himself and for Senate Democrats.
He didn’t demand victory, he demanded a mere vote on the issue.
Running through a list of victims he was all too eager to politicize — “The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote,” etc. — he brought the Democrats in the audience to their feet. Many in the press hailed it as one of the most moving moments of his presidency.
With the sort of willingness to politicize tragedy that is always denounced as the vilest cynicism when Republicans do anything of the sort, Obama and his paid OFA subalterns took to the streets and the airwaves waving the figurative bloody shirt of Newtown for months (with nary a peep of complaint from the same press corps that routinely denounced President Bush for politicizing 9/11).
But when it came time to clear the shin-level hurdle he set for himself and OFA, they face-planted in ground well short of the target.
And now, the president is going to run the same play, again. “If this Congress refuses to listen to the American people and pass common-sense gun legislation, then the real impact is going to have to come from the voters,” he said in one of several bitter promises to turn gun control into an issue to win back Congress in 2014.
As Josh Kraushaar of National Journal noted, Obama couldn’t misread the political environment heading into 2014 any worse.
Because the places where the Democrats need to win to take back the House — the South and Mountain West — are precisely those areas where even many Democrats disagree with the president on gun control. Making it a central issue in 2014 is a boon to Republicans.
The upshot of this is that we will now endure nearly another two years of Obama haranguing us about how it’s him and “the people” against special interests and other evil forces who don’t care about murdered children.
Washington will become more shrill and get even less done, all because Obama’s only play is an populist charade made possible by the fact he still believes his own bull****.
Jonah Goldberg is the author of “The Tyranny of Clichés.”