Whether or not Republican Scott Brown wins today in Massachusetts, the special Senate election has already shaken up American politics. The close race to replace Ted Kennedy, liberalism’s patron saint, shows that voters are rebelling even in the bluest of states against the last year’s unbridled pursuit of partisan liberal governance.
Tomorrow marks the anniversary of President Obama’s Inaugural, and it’s worth recalling the extraordinary political opportunity he had a year ago. An anxious country was looking for leadership amid a recession, and Democrats had huge majorities and faced a dispirited, unpopular GOP. With monetary policy stimulus already flowing, Democrats were poised to get the political credit for the inevitable economic recovery.
Twelve months later, Mr. Obama’s approval rating has fallen further and faster than any recent President’s, Congress is despised, the public mood has shifted sharply to the right on the role of government, and a Republican could pick up a Senate seat in a state with no GOP Members of Congress and that Mr. Obama carried by 26 points.
What explains this precipitous political fall? Democrats and their media allies attribute it to GOP obstructionism, though Republicans lack the votes to stop anything by themselves. Or they blame their own Blue Dogs, who haven’t stopped or even significantly modified any legislation of consequence.
Or they blame an economic agenda that wasn’t populist or liberal enough because it didn’t nationalize banks and spend even more on “stimulus.” It takes a special kind of delusion to believe, amid a popular revolt against too much government spending and debt, that another $1 trillion would have made all the difference. But that’s the latest left-wing theme.
The real message of Massachusetts is that Democrats have committed the classic political mistake of ideological overreach. Mr. Obama won the White House in part on his personal style and cool confidence amid a recession and an unpopular war. Yet liberals in Congress interpreted their victory as a mandate to repeal more or less the entire post-1980 policy era and to fulfill, at last, their dream of turning the U.S. into a cradle-to-grave entitlement state.
We had been encouraged a year ago by Mr. Obama’s selection of Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff because we thought he would have learned from the Clinton failure of 1993-1994 and knew enough to stand up to the Congressional left. How wrong we were. Mr. Emanuel and his boss have instead deferred to Congress’s liberal barons on every major domestic policy.