The president’s apologists look for scapegoats
Oct 25, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 06 • By NOEMIE EMERY
A few years ago, you met a dark, handsome stranger, with a cool, remote manner and a smooth line of talk. You didn’t know him well, but he had a certain je ne sais quoi that you found irresistible. He was yourself, only better; yourself, only cooler; yourself, as you were in your dreams. You were a long-suffering liberal Democrat, and he was your airbrushed fantasy president come to life: FDR without polio, JFK without women, John Kerry with brains, Al Gore with charisma, Bill Clinton without those cringe-making vibes from Hot Springs. You swooned and you sighed, you got him elected, and you settled in to see how great life could be with someone like you in the Oval Office. And then things began to go wrong.
At first, the symptoms of trouble were small ones—a stimulus here, a GM bailout there—but the unemployment numbers kept inching up, and people got cross. You called them racists, clinging to guns and to God out of bitterness, but when they began to make up a majority of the country (including a large chunk of the president’s former supporters), reality had to set in. Or rather, reality had to be acknowledged, within limits: Things were bad, and one had to admit it, but at the same time one couldn’t blame him. He was in charge, but not really responsible; he was around, but somehow apart from his government. So the effects of his actions—recession, malaise, distress, unemployment—could never be traced to their source. It was the fault of George Bush, the fault of bad luck, the fault of the universe. Fault had to be outsourced, to external and sinister forces. And the forces you thought up were these:
It was the fault of the Republican party, that political juggernaut, which set out to subvert Barack Obama’s agenda and did. Alas, the Republicans could only dream of such glories: with 40 votes in the Senate (until 2010) and 178 votes in the House, they were in no shape to do anything, and for most of 2009 were the tail to the kite and caboose to the train of an enormous revolt of onetime Obama supporters and independents that turned the political world on its ear. Shell-shocked and stunned, resigned to years in the wilderness, unsure whether to fight or make peace with this new force of nature, the GOP was curled in the fetal position in early 2009 when Rick Santelli’s call for CNBC viewers to dump “some derivatives” into Lake Michigan set off a wave of spontaneous protests—from which the GOP at first stayed away. It was independents, not Republicans, who staged the mass rallies, grassroots voters—independents and Democrats included—who stormed the town halls in the summer of 2009. It was defections all year from Obama and Democrats that sent his (and their) numbers plunging from the sixties into the fifties, and then to the forties, and put the fear of God into both. It was former Obama voters who smacked Obama and Democrats hard in the off-year elections, with blowouts and upsets in Virginia and in New Jersey, both of which he had won in 2008, and, in the biggest blow of all two months later in Massachusetts, when they gave Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat to Scott Brown. Republicans couldn’t stop health care in Congress: They needed help from Democrats and independent voters who were unnerved by the size and expense of the measure, and raised hell with their members back home. Democrats, had they hung tough, could have passed anything, as they would later prove and now sometimes seem to regret.