Can President Obama still pull it out? That's what Walter Russell Mead is asking. The president needs to lead, needs to define the national problem and represent the solution to the problem.
Look, we know that the "blue social model" has failed. The American people need to know what is going to replace it.
Americans are realistic enough to understand that the breakdown of the blue social model is a messy process and that perhaps no president can deliver a pain free transition to the next stage. But what they aren’t hearing from President Obama is a compelling description of what has gone wrong, how it can be fixed, and how the policies he proposes will take us to the next level.
But really, can he? Can he reverse and say, hey, all that stuff about benefits and greedy bankers and make the rich pay a little more? Forget all that. All that stuff that we Democrats dispensed over the last century is inoperative. Conservatives have been right all along. We need to get the government out of the lives of the American people and rely on that good old American can-do spirit to get us moving.
That is just not how the world works.
To understand the politics of today we need to look at the theory of Thomas Kuhn and his Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Normal science, he wrote, was the patient advance of knowledge using the accepted paradigm. But when a paradigm starts to break down then the world splits in two. The old generation keeps faithfully on with the old paradigm and the new generation tries to understand the world in terms of a new paradigm.
But the new paradigm only wins when the old generation dies off. Why? Because the old generation has all the powerful jobs. Only when they retire, or are kicked out, can the new paradigm come to full flower.
It is bootless to imagine that President Obama can abandon the blue social model that today's Democrats took with their mothers' milk. The new era of smaller, limited government will only come about after the utter discrediting of the blue social model in the minds of not just conservatives but moderates and independents. Democrats will still believe, of course, but they will be demoralized and ashamed.
If President Obama were to come up with a narrative that moved on from the blue social model now, he would probably split his party, and maybe even provoke a third party effort on the left. If he were to do that, Democrats might suffer an utter wipeout. No, the best thing for him to do is to keep to his left-liberal beliefs. He may go down to defeat 55-45 or even 57-43. But at least he will hold his party together.
Then, after a monumental defeat, then and only then will Democrats be ready to move on from the blue social model and join the rest of America.