Opinion Columns & Blogs

Voters turning from 'hope' to 'nope'

Two years ago, a shop window in my neighborhood captured the political mood. It displayed a blue-and-red poster of Barack Obama with the word "HOPE."

Imagine such a poster of any other recent president. People would have laughed at it.

The poster lasted a year. I recall it, and think: How could the believers in Obama not be disappointed in him? They pumped him up into something presidents are not. He was just a man, and only four years out of the state Legislature in Springfield, Ill.

Obama's attraction was that he was young and vigorous, which his opponent was not. He campaigned well. And he was half African. Voting for him offered white Americans a sort of racial redemption.

Obama was a candidate with a story, and a fresher one than John McCain's. But Obama was not a candidate of ideas. He believed what mainstream Democrats believed.

What were his policy disagreements with his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton? The main one was that she was for the individual mandate to buy health insurance and he wasn't. Later he changed his mind about it.

Much of what Obama said was not believable. To workers in the Rust Belt, he said he would redo the North American Free Trade Agreement. His economist told the Canadians that it was a fib, and, of course, it was.

The left hankered for card-check unionism, cap-and-trade, single-payer health care and an end to imperial wars. Among the principal Democrats, it wanted John Edwards, the man who lived in a 28,000-square-foot house and talked about the "Two Americas."

Obama was out chanting, "Yes we can" and "Change!" But change what? Americans weren't about to elect an open leftist. Millions of Obama voters had little interest even in his mainstream liberalism. His health care law alarmed them. They were happy with the care they had. As for saving the Earth, they were for it as long as their utility bills didn't go up.

Many had voted for Obama because they were tired of Republican wars. Now they have a Democratic war, and a commander in chief ill at ease with the military and with military questions.

Many voted for Obama because the Republicans were in charge when Wall Street imploded. Clearly, the Grand Old Party did not know how to run the economy. Now a New York Times poll says 57 percent of Americans think Obama doesn't know, either.

In our system, the president does not run the national economy, though he talks as if he does and we pretend to believe him. The economy is us, and our individual and institutional decisions to work, save, borrow, spend and invest. The economy recovers when we recover.

The federal government can do a few things to encourage us. It can cut short-term interest rates, which it has done. It can set up a multiyear regime of reasonable taxes, which it has not done. But the closest thing to an economic gas pedal is spending, and Obama has stepped on it. Repeatedly. He has discovered what FDR did in the 1930s: that public spending works better as painkiller than as nutrition.

And so the shine is off Barack Obama. Americans elected him in a passion, saw in him what they wanted and expected of him the improbable. They gave him a Congress controlled by Democrats not because they were eager to give free rein to Democrats, but because they were sick of the Republicans.

Now they rebel against Democrats.