Two words: Narrative, schmarrative.
Democrats have talked endlessly about the importance of narrative — missing in President Barack Obama’s case. We’ve heard over and over about the lack of smart messaging and the president’s failure to communicate. If only Obama could better express himself, all would be well.
Seriously? This is the same president whose soaring rhetoric once sent his ratings into the heavenly realm and who, after assuming office, never stopped expressing himself.
For months, he was everywhere. Talking, talking, talking. Admit it. How many times did you flip on the tube and say, “Omigod, he’s talking again?” Several teleprompters had to take early retirement from sheer exhaustion.
Here’s a narrative: You can’t sell people what they don’t want, no matter how mellifluous your pitch. This is the clear message of the midterm elections, and who didn’t know?
Only Democrats, apparently.
They — the imperial “they” — say that the people weren’t voting against the president. Check. Most Americans don’t dislike the president, as in the person. Obama didn’t create this dismal economy, and most acknowledge that fact. But voters were clearly casting a ballot against his policies.
And no, the tea partiers weren’t voting against his pigmentation, as my colleague Eugene Robinson suggested in a recent column. “Take back the country,” the popular tea party refrain, doesn’t mean reclaim it from “the black man.” It means reclaim it from a rogue government.
There were so many clues, even the clueless should have seen what was coming.
In February 2009, Obama had an approval rating of 76 percent. Let me repeat that: 76 percent!!! Few but God poll better. Obviously, one can only go downhill from there, but you can’t pin the slide on racism. All those people didn’t suddenly realize their president was African-American and become racists.
Are there racists in America? Sure. And some of them show up at tea party rallies. Say what you will about the tea party, and there’s plenty to say, but it is fundamentally unfair to say the tea partiers are racist. It is also just plain incorrect to say that opposition to Obama is anti-black. The election was a referendum on policies that are widely viewed as too overreaching and, therefore, ultimately, threatening to individual freedom. It’s that simple.
The essential question that voters were answering was whether government or the private sector is better suited to create jobs. This is a question on which historians and economists disagree, but it was the crux of Tuesday’s election. At the risk of oversimplifying, the midterm bloodbath was a fight over capitalism.
Whether candidates could properly articulate market arguments was less important than whether they understood that expanded government means less individual freedom. You don’t need a doctorate in Keynesian theory to get them apples.
Obama’s declining popularity since his planet-realigning ascendancy is easy enough to graph. The dipping points in his approval ratings correspond to specific agenda items, such as the stimulus and health care reform. Interspersed among those major initiatives were red flags the size of Chile.
In November 2009, New Jersey and Virginia both elected Republican governors — Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell, respectively. These two elections were referenda on Obama’s agenda, specifically tied to health care. Then in January came Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts, another Democratic state, thundering into the Senate to fill the slot left vacant by Ted Kennedy’s death.
That’s narrative for you. Yet somehow Democrats couldn’t see it. They turned a blind eye and did the very thing Americans loathe: telegraphed disdain for the misinformed masses and insisted that people would like what their government was doing for them once they understood it. Translation: shut up and take your medicine.
It was less than reassuring to hear House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tell a gathering of county officials: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
Instead of hearing the people’s voices, Democrats and the White House doubled down and began to demonize the opposition. It was Rush Limbaugh’s fault. Fox News was the problem. John Boehner, today the presumptive speaker of the House, became a target du jour. In an echo of some of the tea party’s worst moments, the White House advanced the them-versus-us mantra.
They’re the problem. Except, alas, “they” were The People. And their voices were being ignored. For better or worse, our system of governance doesn’t include a monarchy.
Obama didn’t need to be a better communicator. He needed to be a better listener. End of story.
E-mail nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org.