Why All the Fuss?

The huge “9/12” protest in Washington was the latest expression of discontent over President Obama’s leftward policy thrust. The discord is evident from the “Tea Party” movement to the chaotic “townhalls” on “healthcare reform.”

The mainstream media and American left are thrown off by this, clearly wanting to dismiss it as a giant, petulant right-wing rant. Some “journalists,” as well as Democratic members of Congress, have described these genuinely concerned citizens in very demeaning terms, from “racists” to “Nazis.”

I know why the left is dismissive: First off, it’s difficult to know if the protesters are mostly people who didn’t vote for Obama, or, more significant, if they include Obama voters who have angrily bolted the president. But, second, there’s a deeper issue the name-callers on the left don’t understand. That’s because they don’t understand what happened on November 4, 2008.

Using data, I’d like to try to explain what took place.

Here’s the rub: On November 4, 2008, a largely conservative American electorate elected an extremely liberal American president. And now that that president is governing from the extreme left, a sizable portion of that electorate is in revolt. It’s that simple.

Let’s start from the beginning:

As a senator, Barack Obama was ranked the most liberal member of arguably the most liberal Senate in the nation’s history by the respected, non-partisan National Journal—famous for its rankings. Americans had never elected as president anyone from that position. Yet, that’s precisely what they did last November 4, and by an impressive margin.

Like many observers, including my liberal friends, I assumed America voted that way because the nation shifted to the left. That was my immediate feeling.

Of course, feelings shouldn’t drive conclusions. So, I went to the data, to the numerous exit polls widely available. There, I expected a reversal in the longtime pattern—beginning under Reagan in the 1980s—where Americans call themselves “conservative” rather than “liberal” by roughly two-to-one, or by around 40 percent compared to 20 percent.

Those numbers must have finally flipped in 2008—or at least narrowed dramatically? No. Despite voting for the most leftist president in the history of the republic, the electorate continued to identify itself as conservative over liberal by roughly two-to-one, around 40 percent to 20 percent.

Maybe this magically turned in Obama’s favor upon his inauguration? No.

One of my favorite examples was noted in a column I wrote during Obama’s first 100 days, titled, “An Obama-Reagan Presidency?” I cited a survey by Clarus Research Group that asked Americans which president should be the model for Barack Obama in shaping his presidency. Surely, the public picked a liberal, right? FDR or LBJ?

No. The electorate’s top choice was America’s most conservative president: Ronald Reagan.

Is that even remotely logical? No, it isn’t.

Finally, one more example, which hit last summer: A Gallup poll reported that conservatives outnumber liberals in literally every state.

Again, that isn’t a surprise, but the specifics of the poll are worth detailing:

It was conducted January through May, when “Obama-mania” was at its peak. Gallup surveyed 160,000 people, far and away a big enough sample for an accurate representation. It found 40 percent calling themselves conservative and 21 percent opting for liberal, largely unchanged from Gallup findings over the last two decades, including the 2004 presidential race (40 percent to 19 percent) and 2000 race (38 percent to 19 percent).

Gallup reaffirmed that conservatives are the single largest voting bloc in America. There are decidedly more conservatives among both women (37 percent to 23 percent) and men (44 percent to 20 percent).

The shock is that such an electorate would choose a president so far to the left.

What the country elected, however, was an appealing politician campaigning under a nebulous, catch-all-be-all banner of “change.” Americans didn’t cast ballots in favor of Barack Obama’s sweeping left-wing ideological preferences—which they knew little about, in part thanks to the same liberal media now fuming at the protesters. They voted for personality; they elected Obama, not his politics. Obama didn’t get a “progressive” mandate.

This is a conservative country. It will not be easily governed by a president governing from the big-government, collectivist left. Obama is doing that, and thus the backlash. We’re watching the inevitable clash between a schizophrenic, irrational electorate and a principled, leftist president.

Yes, conservatives lost on November 4, 2008, but it wasn’t conservatism that was rejected. Likewise, it wasn’t progressivism/liberalism/socialism that was approved.

Blame it on the general public? Yes, certainly.

Barack Obama shouldn’t have expected this electorate to choose him president any more than Eugene Debs or Norman Thomas once did.

In sum, liberals need to understand this reality. Their guy got a major victory on November 4, but not a left-wing mandate.

The only remaining questions are to what degree Obama continues the push to the left, and precisely how much of the electorate is against him.

Dr. Paul Kengor


Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values. His books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”

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  • theshahids

    I agree with the author in general, but I also feel that John McCain, as much as I admire him for his courage while serving in the military, was an very unappealing choice for conservative Americans desiring fiscal responsibility and accountability, while Mr. Obama chanted fiscally responsible quotes in his campaigning – now seen in hindsight to have been double speak- to lure his opponents to sleep. Also, one cannot discount the tremendous draw that Mr. Obama had on minority groups who turned out to vote for him regardless of lack of experience or leftist views. These same groups who voted mostly on pure emotion simply pulled the lever for straight ticket Democrat and gave us Pelosi, Reid, et al. I pray for more a more levelheaded election in 2010 when Mr. Obama is not on the ballet to draw out the non-reasoning mass.

  • Joe DeVet

    This is comforting in a way, and very disquieting in another.

    Comforting in that there’s hope that the grass-roots groundswell will somehow defeat the hard-left direction of this administration.

    Disquieting in that an empty bag of wind like Obama could lull all those presumed conservatives to sleep. It took no effort at all to discern that this man is toxic–and yet it was overlooked by many “conservatives.”

    Disquieting in another way, too, not mentioned in this article. The majority of our fellow Catholics voted for this guy. It is very disappointing to know that we would be spared the present culture-of-death presidency had the Catholics only done their duty last November–but they did not.

  • McCain-Palin may not have been the perfect conservative ticket, but I remember the days after the Republican convention last year when the campaign banners read “Reform.” I remember thinking, finally we’ve found the perfect message to counter Obama’s empty rhetoric about “Change.” Reform is a stronger, more specific word than change and the Republicans could have carried that message to victory, I felt. But after a week or two McCain-Palin seemed to lose that message and we stopped hearing about reform, and it was all downhill from there.

  • goral

    “We’re watching the inevitable clash between a schizophrenic, irrational electorate and a principled, leftist president.”

    While I agree with Dr. Kengor that some of that is the case, I don’t see the throngs of patriots who assembled in DC over the weekend as partly that electorate. I actually would be surprised if any of them would make the sacrifice. No, this group were the real conservatives.

    The schitzoids watched it on CNN and believed as they were told that there were
    70K people there.
    None of this is “remotely logical”, it also isn’t logical that our Catholic brethren did the same.
    All of this is more than disquieting. Such brainwashing and blatant disregard of facts and reality always ends in a mound of skulls.

  • elkabrikir

    I say, return to the era of qualifying voters to cast the ballot. A voter should know basic facts as an American like: the number of stars on the flag and a flag’s hanging orientation. They should know what the Consitution is and be able to read the preamble. They should be able to define “Welfare” as something more than what the government owes them.

    Also, a basic understanding of civics should be demonstrated through testing. For instance, as Americans we’d better know how federalism and separation of powers define our Liberty and work to limit government. Oh yeah! The concept of “Individual” versus “proletariate” must be explored in essay form before the franchise is granted. Wait, let me back up, that would imply a citizen must know how to write a coherant SENTENCE…or is it sentance? (Now we’re talking potential trouble.)

    Owning property, or some other wealth measure, should be re-instituted. People vote their financial interest. When half the electorate don’t pay taxes, they’re happy to elect somebody who taxes me!

    These safeguards would help keep “emotional” uninformed, “schizophrenic, irrational electorate” from electing their future dictator.

    Of course I don’t have all the details ironed out, but please ram my ideas into law within the next two weeks, or we will actually be consumed by Global Warming instantly. There won’t even be any skulls left to toss into a pit.

  • goral

    Your assumption, Elkabrikir is that the gov’t administrators of the exam would know enough to make the proper corrections. I’m not kidding.

    Our Electoral College was set up just for such an occurance. The electorate has demonstrated that they are a french fry order shy of a happy meal, it’s time to step in and save the Republic.

    Not so, this College like most colleges is top heavy with Marxists. We have sown the wind and it’s certain what follows.

    I must congratulate you for giving us Rep. Joe Wilson. That was/is a priceless moment.

    Here’s what some likely administrator of the citizenship exam had to say about him:
    “I guess we’ll probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside intimidating people. That’s the logical conclusion if this kind of attitude is not rebuked.”

    I repeat, I’m not kidding.

  • terrygeorge

    enlightening little collection of data. however, even an electorate which is 40 percent conservative is still not majority conservative. surely lots of conservatives simply didn’t show up to vote in the first place, and even if all 40 percent had it wouldn’t have been enough to overcome obama’s lead. obama won by winning over the non-liberal non-conservative “middle”. agreed the liberally biased media had an influence on that, but there were other factors. agreed many people turned they’re discernment caps off because they wanted to vote for the first minority president, and not just minority voters either. there were also a lot of first time voters, many of whom will probably be dissappointed and not not vote again.
    as for the catholics who voted pro choice, i believe our bishops need to repeat and repeat the pre-eminence of the pro life issue in our time over and over again until the catholic electorate gets the message. i believe this is a pattern of teaching that God used and uses with us.

  • elkabrikir

    Yah, what the government hasn’t stolen from me I’ll send to my fellow “truth sayer”. For it doesn’t take a “soothsayer” to know “You lie”.

    Oh! I forgot, blurting out those words was an obvious move to fatten his war chest and recruit some linen from the–now–defunct Springmaid.