A quarter-century ago, political observers marveled at a new phenomenon: an enormous wave of conservative young people. Instead of tuning in, turning on, and dropping out, they were donning polo shirts, keeping their hair cut short, and waxing eloquent on the wonders of the free market. Their exemplar was Alex P. Keaton, the hero of the television show Family Ties, whose ex-hippie parents shook their heads at their son's affection for Ronald Reagan. The series ran from 1982 to 1989; in its finale, Alex leaves home to take a job on Wall Street.
Even though his mishandling of the economic crisis in September may have cost him the election, Sen. John McCain has been one of the most vocal critics of the stimulus package. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Imagine that you pick up your copy of The New York Times and see a front-page article proclaiming that John Kerry is now such the linchpin of debate in Washington that he has taken "center stage." Then you surf over to one of the Sunday morning talk shows to find George Stephanopoulos or Bob Schieffer interviewing Michael Dukakis. Then you turn your radio and hear a story on NPR about Bob Dole's objections to the president's latest legislative initiative. You'd probably ask yourself, What is going on here? Why am I being forced to listen to these people?
If you go into a chain bookstore these days, you're likely to see an entire wall devoted to books about Barack Obama. Some are collections of photographs from the campaign, some are aimed at kids (Meet President Obama!), some are meant to be a little more thoughtful (answering the question, "What does Obama mean?"), and a few are warnings about the road to disaster he's leading us down. You can see it online as well; search Amazon.com for "Obama" in the books section, and you receive 4,388 results. Among the seven books in the "Cooking, Food and Wine" section are The Obama Menu, and books like The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese, which apparently mentions him somewhere in its pages.
There's a time-tested way to curry favor with the permanent Washington establishment. That is, having David Broder praise you for being "responsible" and being considered a Very Serious Person by the Sunday shows. All you need to do is proclaim ominously that entitlements are a ticking time bomb, a looming storm on the horizon, a hungry beast ready to devour our nation's finances, or whatever metaphor you find most frightening. The more unpleasant the solution you propose -- tax increases are good, but benefit cuts are even better -- the more the Beltway Brahmins will approve.
You'd think passing a $787 billion stimulus bill would count as a victory for Obama. But it was the centrists who got what they wanted from the stimulus bill, and what they wanted was for the entire nation to beseech them for their favor.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, talk about the Senate's work to pass the economic stimulus bill Friday, Feb. 6, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
If six months ago you had said that within three weeks of taking office, President Obama would pass a $787 billion stimulus bill with billions of dollars for food stamps and schools, infrastructure and energy modernization, health care and broadband, anyone would have said it would be an extraordinary victory for the president, his party and his ideology. Yet now that it has actually happened, the administration is hardly acting triumphal, while some other people are imagining themselves the true winners.