Ralph Benko

Political professionals sometimes speak of … “the mood of the electorate.” This subtle force goes beyond ideology, policy and even character. The ability to read and respond to the public’s mood often represents the difference between winning and losing.

The current mood of the country? Disaffection. Congress’s approval rating is in the single digits. The president’s is, at 42%, dramatically lower than that of any other elected president in his third year since the dawn of polling — far lower than that of the feckless, politically doomed, Carter.

The technocratic Mitt Romney has proven his appeal to Republican moderate primary voters, perhaps one-third of the party. The much larger conservative base, however, enthusiastically kept sampling insurgent contenders in search of an antidote to disaffection: a populist progressive conservative.

“Populist progressive conservative” is a hard combination to pull off. But it can be done. Populist means optimistic about people’s ability to govern themselves. Progressive stands for champion of the little guy against powerful insider special interests. Conservative? Fundamentally committed to free enterprise, traditional values and a robust America. Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, two Gingrich icons, did it. Gingrich, perhaps uniquely this cycle, may have threaded this very needle.

Obama, appealing to the mood, invoked popular disaffection in his recent speech at Osawatomie, Kan., site of Colonel Roosevelt’s New Nationalism speech:

[T]here has been a raging debate over the best way to restore growth and prosperity; balance and fairness. Throughout the country, it has sparked protests and political movements – from the Tea Party to the people who have been occupying the streets of New York and other cities. It’s left Washington in a near-constant state of gridlock. And it’s been the topic of heated and sometimes colorful discussion among the men and women who are running for president.

… Theodore Roosevelt … believed then what we know is true today: that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history. It’s led to a prosperity and standard of living unmatched by the rest of the world.

Ralph Benko

Ralph Benko, author of The Websters’ Dictionary: How to use the Web to transform the world. He serves as an advisor to and editor of the Lehrman Institute's thegoldstandardnow.org and senior advisor to the American Principles Project.