Dukakis 2.0

At The Weekly Standard, Noemie Emery hits Obama below the belt by saying that his Presidency is the Dukakis Administration that never was:

As Barack Obama sees his ratings descend toward the high 30s, he is increasingly described as the second coming of James Earl Carter Jr., whose presidency, gone but hardly forgotten, lives on in masochists’ minds. The comparison is unkind and not quite on target: This is less Carter II than the lost presidency of Michael Dukakis, which seemed a sure thing at this date 22 years ago, and from which we were saved by the elder George Bush.

Of course, no one thought Dukakis could be the messiah, but in other ways the connections are strong: both creatures of the liberal Northeast and of Harvard, with no sense at all of most of the rest of the country; both rationalists who impose legalistic criteria on emotion-rich subjects; both with fixed ideas of who society’s victims are, which do not accord with the views of the public; and both with a tin ear for the culture and a genius for creating wedge issues that split their own party. Obama has the Carter naïveté in foreign affairs—treating allies like foes, and vice versa—but it is the Dukakis campaign that provides the better parallel.

She has a point: President Obama managed to glamour the American electorate in 2008 without really giving anyone a sense of who Barack Obama is. He allowed himself to be a kind of empty vessel into which millions of Americans poured their hopes and aspirations. It was a tremendously successful strategy for getting elected, but it hasn’t worked since. The American people don’t want the President to be an empty vessel, they want the President to stand for something. And where Obama has taken his stands have all been on issues that are deeply popular with the American people.

Obama had the benefit of the charisma that Dukakis lacked, but Emery is right in pointing out that at the end of the day, President Obama is a doctrinaire liberal. His vision of the relationship between the American people and the state is a fundamentally left-wing one. President Obama was elected to be a post-racial, post-partisan centrist that would unite the country, heal the wounds of the Bush years, and move America forward. Nearly two years into his presidency, racial tensions are high, partisanship is worse than it was under Bush, and America is mired in economic doldrums. President Obama has lost nearly half his approval among independents precisely because he simply hasn’t governed like the way he promised.

Obama clearly wanted to be a transformational President, but the reality is that a President, no matter how talented, cannot transform this nation. Transformational leaders like FDR and Reagan came along at the right time with the right resonant message. Obama is trying to turn a center-right country into a country that reflects the values of the academic left.

It’s not surprising that he’s failed. Had Obama run as the conventional, doctrinaire academic liberal that he is, he would not have won. Now that he’s in office and acting just as the right said he would, it’s clear that Obama’s allegedly “transformational” Presidency is transforming his positive approval numbers into negative ones.