The scale of Obama's ambitions, one year (and three statewide losses) later 

A year ago, right about now, Obama in his inaugural sent a shot across the bow of the doubters:

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — ...

And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

This was the heart of his inaugural address. This was where we learned what he meant by Hope and Change. He believed that the old rules Changed by enough Hope and enough men and women of good will, hard work, and intelligence. He thought imagination and courage could overcome the laws of nature.

He thought that this time the Big Plans will work. He thought that this time the special interests wouldn't hijack reform.

He thought that this time power wouldn't corrupt.

But the laws of nature, the laws of economics, and the laws of the Washington Power Game didn't evaporate in the heat of Obama's Hope. And the light of day proved irritating to the White House.

Health-care "reform" started to take shape in secret West Wing meetings between Rahm Emanuel and drug lobbyist Billy Tauzin. Labor unions got special deals, as did Nebraska and Louisiana. Climate change legislation became a porkfest. Lobbyists populated the administration.

These things happened not because Obama corrupt, but because politics is corrupt. This was why to doubt the scale of Obama's ambitions.

When Obama spoke about such "cynics" wary of ambitious government a year ago, my reaction was "He's talking about me."

After Democratic losses in Virginia, New Jersey, and now Massachusetts, I'm starting to suspect he's talking about most of America.

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Timothy P. Carney

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