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Anti-Obama Sentiment Sweeps the Nation

Anti-Washington = anti-Obama.

2:30 PM, Mar 3, 2010 • By FRED BARNES
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The same thread runs through Governor Rick Perry’s smashing defeat of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary in Texas, the elections of Republican Governors Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Chris Christie of New Jersey last fall, and the Senate victory of Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts in January. It’s an anti-Washington thread, for sure. But the core of it is an anti-Obama trend.

Anti-Obama Sentiment Sweeps the Nation

Consider this: What if President Obama had changed the way Washington does business, taken steps that actually improved the economy, offered a scaled-back, moderate agenda, and recruited a few Republican allies in Congress? Had he done those things, would there be a powerful, anti-Washington tide today? Of course not.

But Obama didn’t do any of them, and within weeks of his inauguration in January 2009, anger against Washington began to build. First, it was the tea parties, then Republicans turned sharply against Obama and his agenda, and by mid-summer independents joined in.

This handed Perry a winning issue in Texas. He showed up at tea parties and became the champion of states against the encroachments of Washington and the surge in spending. “It’s Texas versus Washington,” a Perry aide said. And Hutchison, pretty conservative in her own right, became the candidate from Washington.

I’m not a defender of Obama, but it’s true he was put in what would have been a tough spot for any president when he arrived at the White House. He had to deal with a deep recession. It’s also the case the liberal base of his party (to which he belongs) was obsessed with cashing in on the economic downturn to enact a sweeping liberal agenda. And with their large majorities in the Senate and House, Democrats felt they didn’t need many, if any, votes of Republicans.

So it would have taken a large dose of moxie for Obama to opt for more civility and bipartisanship in Washington and propose centrist policies. But if he’d done so it would have made a huge difference.

Take his promise to improve the political climate in Washington. Obama campaigned on the notion that he, alone among the presidential candidates, knew how to cure the Washington illness: the polarization and partisan fighting and gridlock and infestation of lobbyists. This is a promise he hasn’t come close to redeeming. He’s barely even tried.

On the economy, Obama let congressional Democrats draft the stimulus package with no input from Republicans (and no across-the-board tax cuts). It has been largely ineffective, nudging the economy a bit upward but leaving the country with 4 million fewer jobs than when Obama took office.

His agenda? Obama has indeed taken up issues on which the public wants solutions. But his proposals on health care, cap and trade, and other issues have actually alienated a majority of America. They’re too liberal, too costly, and too Washington-centered.

It’s an agenda that congressional Republicans were bound to oppose unless offered serious concessions. Obama has offered none, at least until his vague letter this week in which he said he might accept a few lesser Republican ideas on health care. Oh, yes, he lured three Senate Republicans to vote for his stimulus by slightly trimming its price tag. That’s it.

Obama’s relationship with Republicans has chiefly consisted of a few meetings in which he’s reminded them he’s president and they’re not. He’s offered them the opportunity to endorse Democratic legislation as written. Not much room for compromise there.

The victories of McDonnell and Christie were an unmistakable clue that the country was turning against Obama and Obama’s Washington. McDonnell attacked the president and his policies and won in a landslide. With his appearances in New Jersey, Obama may not have aided Christie but he certainly didn’t help Democratic Governor Jon Corzine.

Anti-Washington feeling is a constant in American politics. But what’s different today is the breadth and intensity of ill will toward Washington. It’s an anti-Washington mood of a much higher magnitude now. And Obama could have kept it from being that way.

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