What went wrong? A year ago, he was king of the world. Now President Barack Obama 's approval rating has dropped to 46 percent, and his disapproval rating is the highest ever recorded by Gallup at the beginning of an elected president's second year.

A year ago, Obama was the most charismatic politician on Earth. Today the thrill is gone, the doubts growing - even among erstwhile believers.

Liberals try to attribute Obama's political decline to matters of style. He's too cool, detached, uninvolved. He's not tough, angry or aggressive enough with opponents. He's contracted out too much of his agenda to Congress.

These complaints may be true, but they miss the major point: The reason for today's vast discontent is not that Obama is too cool or compliant but that he's too left.

It's not about style; it's about substance. About which Obama has been admirably candid. With remarkable political honesty and courage, in his Feb. 24, 2009, first address to Congress, Obama unveiled the most radical ideological agenda since the New Deal: the fundamental restructuring of three pillars of American society - health care, education and energy.

Then began the descent. First energy, with cap-and-trade, an unprecedented federal intrusion into American industry and commerce. It got through the House, with its Democratic majority and Supreme Soviet-style rules. But it will never get out of the Senate.

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Then, the keystone: a health care revolution in which the federal government will regulate in crushing detail one-sixth of the U.S. economy. By essentially abolishing medical underwriting and replacing it with government fiat, Obamacare turns the health insurance companies into utilities, their every significant move dictated by government regulators.

At first, health care reform was sustained politically by Obama's own popularity. But then gravity took hold, and Obamacare's profound unpopularity dragged him down with it. After 29 speeches and a fortune in squandered political capital, it still will not sell.

The health care drive is the most important reason Obama has sunk to 46 percent. But this reflects something larger. In the end, what matters is not the persona but the agenda. In a country where politics is fought between the 40-yard lines, Obama has insisted on pushing for the 30. And the American people have put up a stout defense somewhere just left of midfield.

Ideas matter. Legislative proposals matter. Slick campaigns and dazzling speeches can work for a while, but the magic always wears off. It's inherently risky for any charismatic politician to legislate. To act is to choose and to choose is to disappoint the expectations of many who had poured their hopes into the empty vessel - of which candidate Obama was the greatest representative in recent American political history.

To his credit, Obama didn't just come to Washington to be someone. Like Reagan, he came to Washington to do something - to introduce a powerful social democratic stream into America's deeply and historically individualist polity.

Perhaps Obama thought he'd been sent to the White House to do just that. If so, he vastly over-read his mandate. His own electoral success was a referendum on his predecessor's governance and the post-Lehman financial collapse. It was not an endorsement of European-style social democracy.

Hence the resistance. Hence the fall. The system may not always work, but it does take its revenge.

Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post.

 

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