Barack Obama is taking his teleprompter on the road again, this time with Detroit as the first stop on a magical mystery tour to prove that he is, too, still the messiah. He’s trying to persuade everybody that he really isn’t who he really is.
He’s beset by polling numbers that continue to fall. Everything he does makes it worse. He’s fleeing Washington’s chattering class, and he’ll run into the crying class on the road. The president has yet to get his mind around the fact that most Americans have decided that he betrayed their trust, that their only hope for change begins in November.
There’s a forlorn desperation about everything the president and the frightened Democrats do. The soggy blanket of partisan haze and smothering humidity in Washington is enough to drive anyone out of town, and even Detroit looks good. The November congressional elections are now only three months away, and the news from flyover country is that if there’s going to be a turnaround in Democratic fortunes, time’s a-wasting.
John Kerry, trying to cheer up his Senate colleagues in misery, is talking of a rescue of his global-warming scam in a lame-duck session after the elections. He insists that his cap-and-trade scheme, which Majority Leader Harry Reid stripped out of the legislation and tossed into the garbage can last week, “is not dead.” He told Bloomberg Television’s Al Hunt that hope nevertheless springs infernal. “If it is after the election, it may well be that some members are free and liberated and feeling they can take a risk to do something.” Maybe dead senators can do what live ones can’t.
The president’s visits to the government’s auto plants in Michigan, bought by Mr. Obama with the bailout money, preceded visits to New Jersey, where the celebration is supposed to be about the $787 billion dollar “stimulus.” He’s got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do: A new poll by Pew Research finds that only a third of Democratic voters think the stimulus kept unemployment numbers from getting worse, and only 45 percent of the Democrats think the grandly named American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, meant to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, has done much more than put up billboards proclaiming how great highways and bridges will be. Someday, not today.
Mr. Obama can’t fix what’s wrong with him with a recitation of what he’s done for America — the health care reform, the stimulus, the Wall Street regulatory bill — because most Americans don’t like what he’s done to America and have taken his measure and decided that he just can’t get it. Race has nothing to do with it. Americans, mostly white Americans, who have soured on the messiah of Hyde Park are nevertheless proud that the votes that elected a black man demonstrated that the nation has moved past bigotry in the ballot box. (If white folks were as evil as Mr. Obama’s favorite Chicago preacher says they are, Jim Crow wouldn’t be in the graveyard sleeping the sleep of the unjust.)
Mr. Obama has the intellectual’s habit, formed by the intellectualoids at elite universities, of trying to parse sentiment by mathematic formula. Americans respond to love of country like they respond to love of home and hearth, with an instinct of heart and gut. Mr. Obama famously told a group of wealthy donors in San Francisco that when Americans “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion,” and didn’t understand why he enraged the masses. When he apologizes to the nation’s enemies, he wins the applause of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, but jeers in Peoria. When he argues that “if we occasionally confess to having strayed from our values and our ideals, [we] strengthen our hand,” he wins applause in the faculty lounges of Harvard and Yale, but confirms the verdict of Middle America that “he’s not one of us.”
Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, describes the president — emotionally distant, hostile to the cherished traditions of hard work and free enterprise, contemptuous of small-town America — as “reasoned, calm, looking like the adult in the room.” We’ve come a long way to the time and place when we can elect a black president who, like the elites he represents, is indifferent to and contemptuous of the values Americans hold dearest. The president is an attractive, likable salesman, but he can tour from now until next Christmas and never move his merchandise. He never learned the drummer’s first rule for success: “You gotta know the territory.”
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.