Oct. 1, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Winston: Obama, Democrats Misjudged Mandate

“I won.”

Those were President Barack Obama’s pointed words to Republican Congressional leaders when they challenged his proposed stimulus package in a White House meeting held just three days after his swearing-in. As he was to do for the next 20 months, Obama ignored GOP concerns and went on to cram a nearly trillion-dollar stimulus package through Congress, promising unemployment would not go above 8 percent.

Obama’s decision to move the stimulus bill without bipartisan support — followed in the months to come by health care reform, cap-and-trade and financial reform — was driven by a fundamental misreading of the 2008 election. Obama believed then, and apparently still believes, that the American people gave him a mandate to move the country and its policies to the left.

He couldn’t be more wrong, because the 2008 election revolved around personality not policy. Obama’s strategy wasn’t complicated: play to voter discontent by promising change but leave it to people to define that change themselves.

It worked — up to a point. Studiously avoiding policy specifics and showing empathy while discussing voter concerns was enough for Obama to win an election, but what he’s now discovering is that personality politics isn’t the same thing as a mandate for ideologically driven policies.

By choosing to win the election on the strength of his personality rather than his ideas, he failed to win the people’s endorsement of an agenda that included controversial proposals on health care, the environment and, most importantly, his plan to fix the economy. As a result, he has been unable to maintain a majority coalition, which has led to his inability to govern.

Many Democrats assumed the 2008 elections signaled an ideological shift to the left. The stimulus spending package, a throwback to Keynesian economics, was their opening move in that direction. Now, after 16 months of more than 9 percent unemployment, weak growth, rising deficits and endless stories of wasted stimulus dollars over this “recovery summer,” Obama’s economic policies are in disarray.

Clearly, the Obama administration misread voters. When they asked for change, they weren’t asking for a trillion-dollar spending lurch to the left. Despite Obama’s victory, media exit polls have consistently shown that the country remained ideologically where it has been for the past 25 years: center-right.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that voters have not embraced Democrats’ big-government spending solution to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Even when Obama and Democratic Congressional leaders were passing the stimulus package and Obama’s popularity was still high, a February 2009 CBS News survey found that by almost a 3-1 margin, people thought reducing taxes on business was a better solution to get the country out of the recession than increasing government spending. This was just three months after Obama’s “change” election.

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