WASHINGTON -- What went wrong? A year ago, he was king of the world. Now President Obama's approval rating, according to CBS, has dropped to 46 percent -- and his disapproval rating is the highest ever recorded by Gallup at the beginning of an (elected) president's second year.
A year ago, he was leader of a liberal ascendancy that would last 40 years (James Carville). A year ago, conservatism was dead (Sam Tanenhaus). Now the race to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in bluest of blue Massachusetts is surprisingly close, with a virtually unknown state senator bursting on the scene by turning the election into a mini-referendum on Obama and his agenda, most particularly health care reform.
A year ago, Obama was the most charismatic politician on earth. Today the thrill is gone, the doubts growing -- even among erstwhile believers.
Liberals try to attribute Obama's political decline to matters of style. He's too cool, detached, uninvolved. He's not tough, angry or aggressive enough with opponents. He's contracted out too much of his agenda to Congress.
These stylistic and tactical complaints may be true, but they miss the major point: The reason for today's vast discontent, presaged by spontaneous national Tea Party opposition, is not that Obama is too cool or compliant but that he's too left.
It's not about style; it's about substance. About which Obama has been admirably candid. This out-of-nowhere, least-known of presidents dropped the veil most dramatically in the single most important political event of 2009, his Feb. 24 first address to Congress. With remarkable political honesty and courage, Obama unveiled the most radical (in American terms) ideological agenda since the New Deal: the fundamental restructuring of three pillars of American society -- health care, education and energy.
Then began the descent -- when, more amazingly still, Obama devoted himself to turning these statist visions into legislative reality. First energy, with cap-and-trade, an unprecedented federal intrusion into American industry and commerce. It got through the House, with its Democratic majority and Supreme Soviet-style rules. But it will never get out of the Senate.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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