Mobs Rule

Welcome to the mob: an angry, wounded electorate, riled by recession, careening across the political spectrum, still craving change, nursing a bloodlust.

There is a scene in the movie “Gladiator” where two Roman senators are discussing the games that the emperor has revived. One laments: I think the emperor “knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they’ll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they’ll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate. It’s the sand of the coliseum. He’ll bring them death. And they will love him for it.”

That was America during the dawn of W. — too many too easily manipulated. But people grew wiser and restless. And they revolted. As they did, a young crowd-pleaser in Chicago, cloaked in hope, sprang up, won them over and shaped the mob into a movement.

That was then.

Unfortunately, many now see Barack Obama as a left-leaning version of George W. Bush: just another out-of-touch emperor. It seems as if Obama and the Democrats made the mistake of believing that a heart once won was forever won, that people would be patient, and that the mob would accept their reasoning for lack of results.

They were wrong. The mob is fickle. And it’s back with a vengeance.

While the left slept, the right saw a void and leapt in. They feted the fearful to a steady stream of dread and circuses, and now the pendulum of enthusiasm has swung in the other direction.

According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey conducted last week, the percentage of people who view President Obama “very negatively” has more than doubled since he was elected. Over the same time period, the number of those who view the Democratic Party “very negatively” has increased by three-quarters, while the number of those viewing the Republican Party “very negatively” has dropped slightly.

The most recent manifestation of the shifting landscape is the election of Scott Brown, a Republican in reliably Democratic Massachusetts, which shattered the Democrats’ filibuster-proof Senate majority and their sense of security.

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News this week, Obama acknowledged as much: “The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry, and they’re frustrated.”

It’s smart to acknowledge this, but can he get out in front of it?

Obama continued, “If there’s one thing that I regret this year, is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us, that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are.”

He underestimated the mob, and his agenda will suffer now that the emperor has no cloture.

Charles M. Blow, New York Times


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