The media views policy through the lens of politics. Unless a policy victory brings political benefitsrising poll numbers, better prospects for the next electionsit is not treated as a big win. Thus, the Tea Party movement is considered an ominous sign for Obama, evidence that the country is turning against him. But the reason that the Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin crowd is so angry is that Obama has expanded the federal government’s relationship with the private sector in fundamental ways. In political terms, the Tea Party movement may be a sign of Obama’s weakened position, but in policy terms, it is a testament to his success.
As shrewd conservatives like David Frum recognize, the current mood of Republican optimism is wildly misplaced.
When Republicans refused to compromise with Obama on health care, they gambled that he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, push through reform with only Democratic support. Then, when he did, they insisted that he was destroying his chances of passing future legislation. Now he’s proved them wrong again. So what if Obama’s legislative success prompts a backlash that buys the GOP a few more seats this fall? As Frum has asked pointedly, was it a win for the Republicans because after Lyndon Johnson passed Medicare they picked up seats in the midterm elections of 1966? The larger truth is this: Even as Republicans claim political momentum, the country is in the midst of a major shift leftward when it comes to the role of government.
And this shift, more importantly, is not result of some ideological conversion. It's out of a pragmatic attempt to redress the excesses of a generation of conservatism. America's ability to do this - to move between one pole and another as circumstances change - is part of its small-c conservative genius.