My Big Idea is that the Democrats could have learned from the Reagan era. They could have said to themselves: hey, we screwed up. We screwed up society with our 1965 War on Poverty, which our own metrics showed didn't work. We screwed up the economy with the stagflation policies of the 1970s when our program of balancing inflation and unemployment clearly did not work. Here's Reagan, the amiable dunce, and he's kick-started the economy into a stunning boom while winning the cold war. Maybe we could learn something here.
But they didn't. Our Democratic friends have spent the last generation manufacturing policy pretzels to prove to themselves that their big-government, big-regulation political vision really was right after all.
The result of this huge mistake is President Obama, and he is failing at all levels.
Tactically, as John Podhoretz writes, he is failing at the stupid "birther" level. The Obamis evidently thought they were being clever letting the conspiracy nuts have their head on this, but when Donald Trump made it work for him they were forced to put the birth certificate out anyway. I suppose the embarrassment they were trying to avoid is that Ann Dunham Obama was 18 when Barack was born.
Strategically, as Karl Rove writes, Obama is making a mistake with a strategy that lurches left now on the assumption that it can go centrist next year.
Instead, it risks permanently alienating independents, soft Republicans, and a few Democrats who dislike his appeal to the hard left. Savaging the GOP's deficit-reduction plan as "radical" and "nothing serious" may fire up Daily Kos bloggers and gratify Nancy Pelosi. But it's likely to turn off swing voters.
Grand strategically, as Walter Russell Mead writes, he is getting everything else wrong, from foreign policy to stimulus policy. Mead criticizes the president for a half-way approach, splitting the difference and angering both his supporters and his opponents. But I think the problem is bigger than that.
On foreign policy, the President of the United States must rule over the Pax Americana, treating kindly those that want to trade peacefully and sensibly with our commercial commonwealth and treating roughly the thug dictators and pirates that do not. On economic policy the president needs to dial back the pedal-to-the-metal credit and spending and regulation philosophy that has got the United States close to a debt-default situation. The purpose of a stimulus is not to stimulate; it is to tide people over the trough of the recession. But President Obama's stimulus was a slush find for Democratic supporters, and thus a waste. The crying need on health policy is to get off the "first dollar" approach that encourages overuse of health care on minor problems and replace it with a high-deductible policy that encourages Americans to pay for routine health care with their own money and only use health insurance for big-ticket items. President Obama's ObamaCare went in exactly the opposite direction, pushing the United States towards a breakdown in health care funding. Democrats think that such a crisis would allow them to take health care over completely, but they may be surprised by the American people.
The fact is that the liberal model of the centralized administrative welfare state is broken, and President Obama just happens to be president at the moment that this becomes glaringly obvious to the American people. It also just happens that the president is a perfect poster boy for just what is wrong with the Democratic Party: its affirmative action racism, its removal from the American heartland in liberal enclaves like Chicago's Hyde Park, its insular culture in selective colleges and center-left media and think tanks.
Well, now it looks like we are heading for the Perfect Storm, and the American people, especially the Democrats' core constituencies of minorities and single women, are going to suffer.
None of it had to happen if the liberals and the Democrats had taken the trouble to learn the lessons of the 1980s from that amiable dunce, Ronald Reagan.