A Crisis of Confidence

Posted: Aug 10, 2014 7:00 PM

Editor's Note: In the August issue of Townhall Magazine, where this column originally appeared, HotAir's Noah Rothman explains why Americans have lost faith in Obama and are set to punish his party this fall.

By the summer of 2006, Americans no longer believed that President Bush, and the Republican Party he led, could competently manage the nation’s affairs.

Six months before that year’s midterm elections, a contest that would see Republican politicians swept from the offices they occupied in numbers great enough to swing control of both chambers of Congress, a Washington Post/ABC News poll previewed the scale of the anti-GOP wave to come.

Nearly 7 in 10 said the country was on the wrong track. On every major issue, Americans had more confidence in Democrats than Republicans. Nearly a third of voters said their vote in November would be a message of opposition to the president.

The cycles of history appear to be accelerating. Today, surrounded by crises, Democrats are consumed with apprehension. They sense that the fortunes which propelled their party into power in the final years of the Bush administration have abandoned them. They are not imagining things.

On June 18, the Federal Reserve sharply reduced its forecast for American economic growth. Shocked by the first contraction of the American economy since early 2011, the Fed warned that even a sharp reversal of the trends would not compensate for the losses incurred in the winter of 2014. American anxiety is now giving way to despondency as hope that the boom years may one day return, dies.

This news comes on the heels of the scandalous revelation that the nation’s Veterans Affairs hospitals were engaged in a systematic masking of the ineptitude which may have led to the deaths of Americans who served. The outcry over this shameful discovery forced the president to jettison a cabinet secretary.

Obama understands that a loss of confidence in the VA will only further erode faith in his signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act. The president’s party has been forced to defend the law in only negative terms. Maybe it’s not perfect, they say, but you will come to terms with it. Obamacare, like so much in the Obama-era, is the new, suboptimal normal.

Abroad, the president’s haste to extricate the United States from Asian battlefields and to bury the legacy of the War on Terror overcame his sense of pragmatism. In early June, the White House convinced itself that the swap of five Taliban commanders for the captive Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was a brilliant stroke. The last American war prisoner would be freed and America would be relieved of custody of some of the most legally problematic Guantanamo Bay inmates. NBC’s Chuck Todd reported that the White House expected “euphoria” over the deal and were shocked when the opposite was the case.

“The chain of events, coming after days of contending with a searing scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs and coupled with some Democratic unrest over new proposed rules on some power plant emissions, has some Democrats questioning the effectiveness of the administration’s team and its ability to help them get on the offensive with a midterm election just months away,” The New York Times reported.

Contained within this cornucopia of nightmares for Democrats was the sum of all their fears: the return of violence to Iraq necessitating the return of American troops to that theater. Escalating violence in Iraq has forced America’s political analysts to reevaluate Obama’s approach to withdrawal in 2011, to reexamine the circumstances which Obama insists prevented the signing of a Status of Forces Agreement, to wonder whether the president was right to take the path of least resistance when the Syrian civil war might have been contained, and to ask whether Obama’s commitment to political expediency trumped America’s national interests.

By mid-June, the polls portended a catastrophe for Democrats mirroring the scale of the disaster Republicans experienced eight years prior. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 54 percent agreed that Obama “cannot lead and get the job done.” Thirty-four percent of voters told pollsters they would cast a vote in November to “send a signal of opposition to Obama.” And an NPR poll of 12 battleground states revealed that voters have more faith in Republicans to competently manage every major issue, including health care, foreign policy, and the economy.

The palpable anxiety among Democrats has frayed nerves and triggered circular firing squads. Sensing their time in the sun is fast expiring, MSNBC host Chris Matthews exemplified that angst when he scolded Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and her party for failing to meet a decade of unrealistic expectations. In what quickly evolved into a screaming match, the visibly agitated pair groped for a figure to blame for the squandering of the Democrats’ historic mandate. They didn’t find one.

In 2006, The Washington Post warned Democrats that their likely electoral gains would be fueled not by faith in their party, but by dissatisfaction with Republicans. In 2014, that same dynamic seems set to characterize yet another dramatic reversal of political fortune. •