Bush fatigue

I noted yesterday in a post on my blog entitled "The Morning After" that I believe Obama's victory on Tuesday was as much a product of the public's "Bush fatigue"as it was any ringing affirmation of the liberal policies that Obama will pursue as president. I argue this because Obama ran primarily as a centrist, coopting the Republican tax-cut mantra by promising his tax reduction for "95% of working Americans" and talking up his desire in general for middle class tax relief. It was a great strategy and proved extremely effective -- particularly given McCain's ineptness in arguing that the Obama plan amounts to another entitlement program. In the end, of course, we all know that with the Democratic robber barons in Congress leading the way, tax increases are coming for everyone -- and not just the "rich" folks making in excess of $250k per year. In my view there is no fundamental "realignment" in this election -- the country remains a center-right nation that wants small government and low taxes. In today's Wall Street Journal, Pat Toomey makes a very compelling argument to this effect:

"A poll commissioned by the Club for Growth in 12 swing congressional districts over the past weekend shows that the voters who made the difference in this election still prefer less government -- lower taxes, less spending and less regulation -- to Sen. Obama's economic liberalism. Turns out, Americans didn't vote for Mr. Obama and Democratic congressional candidates because they support their redistributionist agenda, but because they are fed up with the Republican politicians in office. This was a classic "throw the bums out" election, rather than an embrace of the policy views of those who will replace them."

This is exactly the point I've been making: the 2008 election -- like in 2006 -- was a referendum on George W. Bush and the Republican "bums" that the public associates with failure. It was not a ringing endorsement of "spreading the wealth around" and doesn't amount to an affirmation that wanting to keep more of your hard earned money is "selfish". This was not a realignment toward socialism. It was a rejection of Bush, pure and simple.

The poll results cited by Toomey clearly back up this position:

"Consider the most salient aspects of Mr. Obama's economic agenda: the redistribution of wealth through higher taxes on America's top earners; the revival of the death tax; raising the tax on capital gains and dividend income; increased government spending; increased government involvement in the housing crisis; a restriction on offshore drilling and oil exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR); and "card check" legislation stripping workers of their right to a secret ballot in union elections.

On each of these issues, swing voters stand starkly against Mr. Obama. According to the Club's poll, 73% of voters prefer the federal government to focus on "creating economic conditions that give all people opportunities to create wealth through their own efforts" over "spreading wealth from higher income people to middle and lower income people." Two-thirds of respondents prefer to see the permanent elimination of the death tax, and 65% prefer to keep capital gains and dividend tax rates at their current lows."

These results read like a Conservatives dream: a focus on individual effort to create wealth, elimination of the death tax and low tax rates. Unfortunately, the voters -- in rejecting McCain as another vestige of the Bush Administration -- elected someone who stands in opposition to all of these positions. Obama is on record as supporting increases in the death tax, capital gains and dividend taxes, income taxes on the highest tax bracket, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and many other tax increases. One of the poll results that shocked me from Tuesday was that Obama won among tax payers in the $200,000 and above income category -- the very category that he was openly targeting for a tax increase. Voters seem to be against tax increases -- but they didn't vote that way on Tuesday.

This seeming contradiction is tough to explain. It is a given, of course, that many voters don't pay attention to the details, and vote on the basis of emotion and personality. On that score Obama won hands down. Many of the voters in swing states ended up voting against their stated interests and desires, by electing Obama and increasing Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. The emotional wave of "change" -- coupled by an incoherent Republican opposition and a total failure of leadership -- created a Democratic wave. Caveat emptor: they just bought something that was both defective and dangerous.

How long will it take before massive "buyer's remorse" sets in? That depends on how well Obama is able to manage the massive liberal forces that will now be pushing him hard to the left. Whether it be the far-left interest groups that poured massive money into his campaign, or the Democratic leadership in Congress that wants socialism on a grand scale, Obama faces some powerful groups that want precisely what most Americans do not. Whether he can (or will) resist this and govern more to the center is unclear. Nothing in Obama's past indicates a courage of conviction or a willingness to buck his party's power brokers. If Obama is unable (or unwilling) to control these forces, he will quickly find himself with a groundswell of opposition among those who decided (against logic) to vote for him. It won't be pretty.

In the end, this election amounted to a clear signal to conservatives that the issues that fueled the Reagan Revolution -- smaller government, less regulation and low taxes -- still resonate broadly with the American people. George W. Bush was never a leader of this movement, and his prolifigate spending and lack of fiscal discipline helped to ruin the Republican brand. Now, Conservatives need new leadership and new ideas that will take the Reagan-era philosophies and update them for a new generation of Americans. Barack Obama won the presidency but he hasn't changed America.