When lib­eral fan­tasies col­lide with pub­lic opin­ion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

In the Bella Cen­ter on the south side of Copen­hagen and in the Se­nate cham­ber on the north side of the Capi­tol, we’re see­ing what hap­pens when lib­eral dreams col­lide with Amer­i­can pub­lic opin­ion. It’s like what hap­pens when a but­ter­fly col­lides with the wind­shield of a speed­ing SUV. Splat.

The lib­eral dreams may have seemed, on those nights in In­vesco Field and Grant Park, as beau­ti­ful as a but­ter­fly. But they are still sub­ject to the mer­ci­less laws of po­lit­i­cal physics.

Eleven months ago, this did not seem in­evitable. It was widely sup­posed that eco­nomic dis­tress would in­crease Amer­ica’s ap­petite for big gov­ern­ment mea­sures to re­strict car­bon diox­ide emis­sions and con­trol the pro­vi­sion of health care. Es­pe­cially when a young dy­namic pres­i­dent em­ployed his or­a­tor­i­cal gifts to tran­scend, as he put it, old ide­o­log­i­cal and par­ti­san di­vi­sions.

Pres­i­dent Obama, who seemed so con­fi­dent of his pow- ers as he pre­pared for his inau­gu­ra­tion, ev­i­dently be­lieved that he could per­suade Amer­i­cans to sup­port left-of-cen­ter poli­cies that they had never fa­vored be­fore.

A Demo­cratic Congress re­jected Hil­lary Clin­ton’s health care plan in 1994, and a unan­i­mous Se­nate re­jected the cen­tral pro­vi­sion of the Ky­oto Pro­to­col in 1997. But this time, with a steep re­ces­sion and a new leader, things would be dif­fer­ent.

As snow fell on the global warm­ing alarmists in Copen­hagen and a win­ter storm made a bee­line for the Capi­tol as the Se­nate was set to be­gin its round-the­clock week­end ses­sion, things don’t seem that dif­fer­ent at all.

The Copen­hagen con­clave seems to be un­able to pro­duce the promised bind­ing treaty com­mit­ting 100-plus na­tions to re­duce car­bon emis­sions. It seems likely to kick the can down the road to 2012.

One rea­son is that the leaders of China and In­dia are un­will­ing to slow down the eco­nomic growth that has been lift­ing mil­lions out of poverty in or­der to avert a dis­as­ter pre­dicted by cli­mate sci­en­tists who, we now know from the Cli­mate­gate e-mails, have been busy ma­nip­u­lat­ing data, sup­press­ing ev­i­dence and si­lenc­ing any­one who dis­agrees.

An­other is that Amer­i­can vot­ers have shown a grow­ing skep­ti­cism of such pre­dic­tions. The cap-and-trade bill that Mr. Obama hoped to brag about in Copen­hagen now clearly has no chance of pas­sage in the Se­nate. Mr. Obama talks of giv­ing de­vel­op­ing coun­tries $100 bil­lion to pay for emis­sions re­duc­tions. But the ABC/Wash­ing­ton Post poll re­ports that by a 57 per­cent to 39 per­cent mar­gin Amer­i­cans op­pose do­nat­ing even $10 bil­lion.

Sim­i­larly, poll­ster Scott Ras­mussen re­ports that only 34 per­cent of Amer­i­cans say pass­ing a Demo­cratic health care bill is bet­ter than pass­ing noth­ing, while 57 per­cent say it’s bet­ter to pass no health care bill at all. That’s also the opin­ion of Dr. Howard Dean, for­mer Demo­cratic na­tional chair­man, and the left-wing MSNBC pun­dit Keith Ol­ber­mann.

There is still some chance that Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid can cor­ral 60 Demo­cratic votes for what­ever health care bill he un­veils. But it’s looking in­creas­ingly un­likely — and in­creas­ingly po­lit­i­cally sui­ci­dal for some of those 60 Se­nate Democrats.

Bill Clin­ton has told those Democrats that they’d be bet­ter off po­lit­i­cally pass­ing some­thing rather than noth­ing. But his own job rat­ing swelled only af­ter his health care pro­pos­als failed to pass.

“What’s re­ally ex­cep­tional at this stage of Obama’s pres­i­dency,” writes An­drew Kohut, the Pew Re­search Cen­ter’s re­spected poll­ster, “is the ex­tent to which the pub­lic has moved in a con­ser­va­tive di­rec­tion on a range of is­sues. Th­ese trends have em­anated as much from the mid­dle of the elec­torate as from the highly en­er­gized con­ser­va­tive right. Even more no­table, how­ever, is the ex­tent to which lib­er­als ap­pear to be doz­ing as the coun­try has shifted on both eco­nomic and so­cial is­sues.”

From which we can draw two con­clu­sions. One is that eco­nomic dis­tress does not move Amer­i­cans to sup­port more gov­ern­ment. Ras­mussen re­ports that 66 per­cent of Amer­i­cans fa­vor smaller gov­ern­ment with fewer ser­vices and only 22 per­cent fa­vor more ser­vices and higher taxes.

The sec­ond is that Mr. Obama’s per­sua­sive pow­ers are sur­pris­ingly weak. His ad­vo­cacy seems to have moved Amer­i­cans in the op­po­site of the in­tended di­rec­tion.

Mr. Obama first came to na­tional at­ten­tion in 2004 by promis­ing to heal par­ti­san, ide­o­log­i­cal and racial di­vi­sions. Like the other two Demo­cratic pres­i­dents elected in the last 40 years, he cam­paigned in the cen­ter and started off gov­ern­ing on the left. In Copen­hagen and on Capi­tol Hill, we are see­ing the re­sults. Splat.

Michael Barone is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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