Populist Right Rising
What happened to the Age of Obama?
Glancing over the New York Times Book Review Sunday, one finds three of the top four non-fiction best-sellers were written by conservatives — columnist Michelle Malkin, talk-show host Mark Levin and Fox News contributor Dick Morris.
At No. 10, in its 40th week on the list, is Bill O'Reilly's memoir.
No. 1 best-seller in paperback: Glenn Beck's Common Sense.
Moreover, the altarpiece of the transformational presidency, universal health insurance, is on life support, as huge crowds pour into town hall meetings to denounce it. Responding to the protests, the Obamaites have dumped the end-of-life counselors (aka "Death Panels") and declared the government option expendable.
But what are we to make of these "evil-mongers" of Harry Reid's depiction, these "mobs" of "thugs" organized by K Street lobbyists and "right-wing extremists" who engage in "un-American" activity at town hall meetings? Surely, all Americans must detest them.
To the contrary. According to a Pew poll, by 61 percent to 34 percent, Americans think the protesters are behaving properly. Gallup found that by 34 percent to 21 percent Americans identify with them. For these folks at the town hall meetings are not overprivileged Ivy League brats seizing campus buildings and holding the dean hostage. They look and talk just like them.
What President Obama is losing is not the far right but the center of the country. Nor is this the first time liberals have misread America.
During the 1968 Democratic convention, liberals sided with the antiwar demonstrators in Grant Park. And the country sided with the Chicago cops who went into the park and gave them a good thrashing.
In 1969, the national press was writing that President Nixon must yield to the hundreds of thousands ringing the White House. Nixon went on national TV to call on the Silent Majority to stand by him.
They did, for four years.
One recalls Sen. Ed Muskie blurting out, after being crushed in the Florida primary by George Wallace, that he didn't know there were that many racists in Florida. That was the end of Ed. And in the fall, the Floridians flooded to Nixon, who did not insult them.
After Nixon rolled up his 49-state triumph, Pauline Kael, movie critic at the New Yorker, is said to have expressed disbelief: "I don't know how Nixon won. No one I know voted for him."
George H.W. Bush never saw the rebellion of 1992 coming and watched Ross Perot waltz off with a third of his 1988 voters.
The anger in Middle America today looks much like what erupted in the NAFTA debate of 1993 and the amnesty debate of 2007.
The difference: Republican leaders stood with Washington then, for NAFTA and amnesty. This time, the party leaders are with the people, and should do the people's will.
Seven months into the Age of Obama, the GOP has been given an opportunity to regain the allegiance of the voters John McCain lost with his embrace of NAFTA and amnesty, and his dash to Washington to convince Republicans to give Hank Paulson $700 billion to bail out Wall Street.
For these protesters are not so much being drawn to the GOP as being driven to it. The manic assaults by Democrats and liberal commentators and columnists on the protesters as "un-American," "birthers," "racists," "mobs" and "evil-mongers" has enraged and united them and cost Obama much of his support in Middle America.
Does the left not realize that, while four in five Republicans say the protesters are behaving appropriately, 64 percent of moderates and 40 percent of Democrats agree with those Republicans?
We are also learning that Republicans have not been hurt by their opposition to the stimulus bill or cap-and-trade. The country has come to agree with the GOP.
Nor was the party hurt when, by four to one, its senators voted against Ms. Affirmative Action, Sonia Sotomayor. Nor was it hurt by standing with Sgt. Crowley when Obama rushed to denounce the Cambridge cop for acting "stupidly" in arresting the Harvard professor who got in his face. Obama's support among Africans-Americans remains solid. His support among the white working and middle class is sinking.
Increasingly, Obama is being perceived as a man of the left and Republicans as the bulwark against a lurch to the left. Democrats may denounce Republicans as the Party of "No" — but the nation seems to be saying "Yes" to the Party of "No."
In his new memoir, Encounters, conservative scholar Dr. Paul Gottfried writes of a 1993 gathering, hosted by this writer, where libertarian legend Murray Rothbard, columnist Sam Francis and that founding father of postwar conservatism, Dr. Russell Kirk, went at it over the role of the populist right in the conservative movement.
Though they vehemently disagreed, each man represented an essential element of a center-right coalition. As for the protesters, surely Thomas Jefferson was more right than Harry Reid, when he wrote to James Madison, "A little rebellion now and then is a good thing and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."
August 19, 2009
Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail] is co-founder and editor of The American Conservative. He is also the author of seven books, including Where the Right Went Wrong, and A Republic Not An Empire. His latest book is Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War.
Copyright © 2009 Creators Syndicate