Barack Obama floated into the Oval Office on the billowing rhetoric of bipartisan cooperation despite a voting record that pointed to the opposite extreme. A war-weary public preferred rhetoric to reality, his cool promises to his cold practice.
Fourteen months post-inauguration, voters are getting exactly the reality that Mr. Obama's prior public service had foretold. And the rhetoric that so many found hopeful and uplifting has sunk to a snarkier partisanship than that of any president in history.
Unlike some of the Democrats who defied party leadership on the health care bill, Mr. Obama revealed himself once again to be no statesman. That's one lesson from the past historical week.
Lesson Two is that Americans espouse bipartisanship right up until one party stops even pretending to try; then the voters' indignation becomes highly partisan indeed.
And last week's third lesson is that Democrats don't care very much about the fallout from Lessons One and Two -- not enough to stop their war of attrition against the free markets and fair play that are absolutely central to the American Way.
As for statesmanship: On Saturday, when the president went to Capitol Hill to rally House Democrats across the finish line on the health care bill, he demonized his opposition in a way unbecoming to the stature of the presidency.
Early on Mr. Obama mocked Republicans Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Karl Rove for their "friendly advice" -- warning of "the horrendous impact [on Democrats' re-election prospects] if you support this legislation." Later he backhanded the GOP with: "Something inspired you to be a Democrat instead of running as a Republican. Because somewhere deep in your heart you ... believe in an America in which we don't just look out for ourselves, that we don't just tell people you're on your own..."
Leftists ignore the fact that conservatives out-give liberals by a margin of 2-to-1 and keep proclaiming that concern for others is best demonstrated through government programs -- a notion that voters are clearly rejecting in the health care debate.
Both to open and close, the president quoted Abraham Lincoln: "I am not bound to win, but I'm bound to be true..." It will take years to determine whether any of the Democrats' claims about this bill are true -- and whether the criticisms of it are false -- but right now it can fairly be said that it's undignified to invoke Lincoln while savaging the Party of Lincoln.
By contrast, earlier in the week, Rep. Jason Altmire, the Democrat from the North Hills, went into Fox's lair, telling Sean Hannity the proposed "deem and pass" process was "wrong," speaking out against kickbacks and special deals but refusing to demonize the politicians he disagrees with.
This principled and highly public protest from a "swing vote" may well have helped the Democratic leadership to abandon its no-vote strategy late Saturday. Mr. Altmire's statesmanlike conduct commands respect.
As for bipartisanship: Last summer, mere weeks after the health care reform effort began, Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy, a local Republican on the Health and Commerce subcommittee, rolled his eyes in disgust at an interviewer's use of the word "bipartisan" and explained in detail how GOP members were being completely shut out of the process from the get-go.
Nothing's changed since then. Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, ranking Republican on the full Energy and Commerce Committee, stated Sunday that every recent amendment he's offered has been voted down strictly on party lines.
Indeed, the only Republican supporters Mr. Obama could cite Saturday were Bob Dole and Howard Baker, who left Congress in 1996 and 1984 respectively. And as no House Republicans support this bill, only the opposition is bipartisan.
Voters now are almost as starkly divided. While 74 percent of Democrats support the health care bill and 87 percent of Republicans oppose it, opposition from crucial independent voters is 59 percent, according to the Rasmussen Report. The same pollster shows that since Obama's inauguration, voter preference for the two parties has more than reversed, with a 42-36 advantage for the Dems in January 2009 giving way to a 45-35 advantage for Republicans today.
When Republican Scott Brown won the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat two months ago, pundits advised the president's party to tack to the right -- at least enough that they could see the political center -- but instead, the Democrats "doubled down."
Why? Why ram through a widely distrusted, government-expanding bill that a majority of Americans believe will increase health care costs? Is 40 years' experience with wasteful and counterproductive Great Society programs meaningless? Are voters foolish to fear mind-boggling deficits, continual bailouts and Social Security's impending insolvency?
At some point, it's fair to ask whether the nonstop drain on the national treasury and the nation's taxpayers is, first and finally, a backdoor gambit to deep-six capitalism -- the economic expression of our inalienable right to liberty.
Ruth Ann Dailey: firstname.lastname@example.org .