With the first round of primaries behind us, pundits are trying to nail down the national mood. Anti-Democrat? Anti-liberal? Anti-incumbent?
Abraham Lincoln summed up American politics over 150 years ago that is as accurate and relevant today as it was then: “In this age, and in this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions.”
Our current political leadership is out of touch with public sentiment.
The “anti-this” or “anti-that” hypotheses just capture part of the picture.
A political leader needs to know who we are as well as who we are not. Americans are not getting leadership today that is delivering a vision that captures their sense of what this country is about.
Recent polling by Rasmussen shows the percentage saying they “strongly disapprove” of President Obama’s performance 22 points higher than those who “strongly approve” – the worst showing yet of his presidency. Shortly after he was elected, those recording “strongly approve” was 30 points higher than strongly disapprove.
Polling on the health-care bill Democrats pushed through against public sentiment remains negative. And latest polling shows voters expressing more confidence in Republicans than Democrats in dealing with terrorism, immigration, the deficit and the economy.
But what about overall vision?
Roger Ailes, president of Fox News, knows something about the American people. Tapping into his sense of who Americans are and what they want, he built Fox into the nation’s top cable network.
In the most recent tracking poll on health reform done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, more said they’ve gotten their information on health reform from cable TV than any other news medium, and among the cable TV sources, Fox finished first.
In an interview done with Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution several months ago, Ailes offered observations about what is going on in the country.
Regarding our president, Ailes noted that he is “underexposed” and “overexposed.”
He’s “underexposed” in that when he ran he said his administration would be transparent, and it’s not.
At the same time, he’s overexposed. He’s on TV all the time. Yet, he’s not succeeded, in the word’s of Lincoln, in “molding public sentiment.”
Obama “must lead,” said Ailes, but that doesn’t mean telling the American people what to do and it doesn’t mean doing it in a back room.
According to Ailes, we are now in the most difficult “tipping point – decade – of our history.”
We have to get back, he says, “to understanding that we are Americans,” that the world looks to us to be financially strong and militarily strong.
Americans, according to Ailes, are simple – but not simpletons. We love our families, our flag and don’t want our incomes taxed away.
Voters delivered the presidency and the Congress to Democrats when Republicans lost public sentiment. But they have misinterpreted their mandate. They thought Americans were looking for a new country. No, we are looking to restore who we are.
“Multiculturalism, diversity – they are good,” says Ailes. “But they don’t trump the one word that should be taught in schools – unity. … People came to this country from disparate countries and backgrounds to become Americans.”
When will he retire? “I can’t walk away until people understand how valuable and important being an American is.”
Americans are looking today for political leaders that understand, with the conviction and clarity of Roger Ailes, that this is not just a another country.
Americans are looking for leaders whose understanding about American exceptionalism is not, in the words of our president, the same way “the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”
Americans want to become American again.