And yet none of these rules seem to be applying; at least not too strongly. Big government seems more unpopular today than ever. The Gulf oil spill should be a Gaiasend for environmentalists, and yet three quarters of the American people oppose Obama's drilling ban. Sixty percent of likely voters want their newly minted right to health care repealed. Unlike Europe, where protestors take to the streets to save their cushy perks and protect a large welfare state, the Tea Party protestors have been taking to the streets to trim back government.
But even on the continent the rules are changing. European governments have turned into deficit hawks to the point where the American president feels the need to lecture them on their stinginess.
Of course, he increasingly feels the same need here at home as our out-of-control debt is becoming a live issue, despite the fact that voters should be clamoring -- according to the rules -- for more taxpayer-funded jobs.
Barack Obama recently recruited Bill Clinton to stump for the Democrats as a surrogate because the former president is more popular than the current one. It's ironic because candidate Obama had once disparaged the Clinton presidency as not ambitious enough. Obama wanted to be a liberal Reagan who would reverse the rising conservative tide in American politics (just as he would reverse the rise of the oceans), not be the sort of president who accepted the tide and merely navigated its currents.
But is it really so outlandish to imagine that Bill Clinton, a creature spawned from politics like a golem from clay, had a better sense of political reality than the ivory tower intellectual currently occupying the White House? Clinton proclaimed the era of Big Government was over, and left office quite popular. Barack Obama said, in effect, "Oh no it's not" and his presidency and his party are in freefall, despite an economic climate that, according to the rules, says he should be not only running the table but be popular for it.
As a conservative, I'm very reluctant to believe that the rules change easily or often. And there's no end of explanations for the political climate that would leave the rules intact. But it's just becoming harder and harder to shake the feeling that something bigger than politics as usual is at work.