In March 2010, liberal columnist Peter Beinart argued that, for decades, Democratic politicians treated America’s innate conservatism like a slumbering bear: If you make no sudden moves and talk quietly, you can get a lot done. But if you wake the bear, as Democrats did in the late 1960s and early ’70s, the ursine silent majority will punish you.
But Obama promised to change that. He was tired of the timid, almost apologetic talk. He was going to be an FDR, or at least a Reagan for liberalism. He was going to “fundamentally transform” the country. And to those who counseled that Democrats can’t govern that way, Obama and his followers responded with shouts of “Yes, we can!”
You might think it was those shouts that woke the bear, but that’s not what happened. After all, Obama enjoyed stunning popularity when he entered the Oval Office.
No, it wasn’t words but deeds that roused the beast. The poorly crafted, deeply partisan stimulus was like a sharp stick to the bear’s belly. But it was “Obamacare” that ended the hibernation.
Despite his deployment of every rhetorical weapon in the progressive arsenal, Obama could never make the thing popular. At town-hall meetings, the bear growled and snorted, in a posture that the experienced psephological woodsman understands to mean, “leave the bear alone.” …
… So here’s Obama in a very rough spot. He needs more than just his base to win, yet he can’t win without his base. But he can’t secure it without slapping the bear even more.