Will Hubris Sink the Democrats?

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Standing at a gas station pump, as news blared overhead about the Fort Hood shootings, a young mother with two children buckled into her sedan's car seats sighed.

“I hope someday if, God forbid, tragedy strikes again at a military base, whoever is president doesn't still head to a fundraiser,” she said.

She didn't think that President Obama doesn't care, she said. “It is just, come on, do the right thing!” The visual impact of Obama discussing the tragedy at a political fundraiser is “uncaring, arrogant, wrong,” she said, punctuating each adjective.

Impressions are lasting. Americans in general have a fairly good sense of what is right or wrong. Despite the blurred lines of news intersecting with opinion — and sometimes buffering a casual viewer from facts — Americans also have a pretty good sense of when some official is getting things right or wrong.

Attending two fundraisers on the night of a military base shooting can irritate many people. Celebratory champagne toasts, exotic hors d'oeuvres, well-heeled guests and hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing to elected officials. These are not the images you should wish to convey to Americans on such a night.

Since the beginning of his administration, President Obama has struggled with image at times of tragedy and triumph.

When a tragedy strikes, his reaction always comes across as detached; when he feels he has triumphed, he oozes hubris that is incredibly off-putting, even to his supporters.

It is a problem both parties have faced through the years. But Democrats stand out now because they are in power, according to former Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy. The Bucks County Democrat lost his swing district in the 2010 midterm election.

The road to Murphy's loss began the day that Democrats overplayed their victory of signing the Affordable Care Act — ObamaCare — into law in 2009. Their leaders gloated, walking toward the U.S. Capitol wielding an oversized gavel; Vice President Joe Biden bragged that the law's enactment was a “big (bleeping) deal,” and Obama's entire demeanor seemed smug.

All of them forgot that most Americans opposed the bill. They forgot that nearly half of House and Senate Democrats initially opposed the bill and had to be offered the sun, the moon and the stars to vote for it — and, even then, some of them knew they were political dead men walking when they cast that vote.

The one thing this administration did not forget to do was to take a victory lap and the image of that never left Americans' minds. Down-ballot Democrats like Murphy paid the price for their party's hubris one year later in the midterm elections.

It is a problem found among members of both parties who spend too much time wrapped in the bubble of Washington, Murphy said: “They often develop hubris and tend to forget who they're representing back home.”

Hubris ruled the day again last week as Obama wasted no time proclaiming that 7.1 million people signed up for ObamaCare. Instead of being thankful that his fumbling rollout allegedly worked, he decided to stick it to every single person who wondered if that would ever happen.

“He is charging down the same path that he went in 2009, when they passed ObamaCare,” said Bruce Haynes, a Republican strategist and managing partner of Purple Strategies, a bipartisan consulting firm in Washington.
That's a dangerous path to take when the law still remains highly unpopular and no other elected member of his party — not one — stood with him as he took his victory lap.

Americans are not complete fools. Democrats are not in trouble this fall because folks have found Republicans to be more competent. Democrats are in trouble because people know that the biggest negative impact of this law is its uncertainty, which impacts the economy and their lives.

And leading the Democrats is a president who just spiked the football in front of the entire country, more than half of which opposes his signature law.

As the woman with the two small children pulled away from the gas station, a half-torn “Obama-Biden 2008” sticker was visible on her right bumper — a succinct summary of how quickly arrogance can fade even the shiniest of pennies.

Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at szito@tribweb.com
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