The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Intellectuals and Buyer Remorse: Pundits Ditch Obama

Ann Althouse listens to Glenn Reynolds interview Camille Paglia about her disappointment with President Obama’s first term and nods along vigorously to the points being made:

You don’t want government agencies being empowered to intrude into people’s lives like this. The controlling force in Obamacare is the IRS! Okay? This flies in the face of what the Free Speech Movement was about at Berkeley or about any of the values, I feel, of my generation.

Yes. Exactly. This is how the Democratic Party lost me — by trading freedom for statism.

So I feel the Democratic Party needs to be shattered and remade to recover its true progressive roots. I don’t see progressives. All I see is white upper-middle-class liberals who speak in this unctuous way about the needs of the poor.

Unctuous. Yes. White upper-middle-class liberals lubricating themselves.

It’s far from clear that President Obama’s ship is sinking, but some of the prominent centrist and center-right intellectuals who supported him in 2008 are jumping overboard. See also David Brooks’ op-ed in the New York Times this morning: he’s hardly enthusiastic about Mitt Romney’s chameleonic personality, but he sees little more than hopeless gridlock in store should President Obama win a second term.

Losing a few intellectuals is not the same thing as losing a mandate, but the contrast between the excitement surrounding the 2008 campaign and the weariness of this one is hard to miss. Some of that shift comes from the Republican recovery; in 2008 the Republican party was tarred by scandal, hobbled by the unpopularity of George W. Bush, stricken by the effects of two unpopular wars, distracted by Senator McCain’s unconventional choice of running mate and crushed by the arrival of the greatest financial crisis in sixty years. Four years later, the GOP has bounced back and while it still has many problems it is no longer manifestly too crippled to govern.

But it isn’t just a GOP recovery that has altered the nature of the race. The enthusiasm for the President has diminished. We are hearing much less about the new Lincoln, the next Roosevelt and the Democratic Reagan this time around. The President may still pull out a win in this closely fought and volatile election, but there’s little doubt that four years in the White House have tarnished his appeal. He was once hailed as a historic, transformational change agent; whatever happens next Tuesday, he will look a little smaller than he did in 2008.

Should he lose, it will be interesting to see what he does next. If the race is at all close, it would be tempting for him to follow the precedent established by Grover Cleveland, who lost his bid for re-election in 1888 but came back in 1892 to run for and win a second term. Given the strong backing for him among African-Americans and on the left of the party, an ex-President Obama would be a formidable candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2016.

Published on October 30, 2012 12:00 pm