President Obama's 2008 victory came with a hidden cost that weighs more heavily upon his presidency each day. The platitude-ridden and light-on-specifics campaign of "Yes We Can!" left Obama without a genuine mandate for his ambitious left-wing agenda. The result is now making itself felt as independent voters turn sharply against him 18 months into his presidency. Only 38 percent of them now approve of his performance, according to the latest Gallup poll.
Having watched Obama ram through various pieces of unpopular legislation -- most notably his health care bill -- and having seen the effects of his ineffectual but expensive stimulus package, American voters are showing signs they feel tricked. The same electorate that chose Obama two years ago in a sound majority vote is now rejecting each of his agenda items in survey after survey and threatening to return Republicans to the majority in at least one house of Congress.
The political tide has turned so rapidly and so strongly against Obama and the Democratic Party that Republicans cannot believe their good fortune. And it is here that they risk repeating Obama's failure. If Republicans want, they can run -- and perhaps win -- with a campaign whose main message is that the other guys have failed. But with this approach, the GOP risks being saddled with the Herculean task of governing a debt-ridden America without public support for their reforms.
This is where the Road Map -- a fiscal plan produced by the wonkish Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. -- comes into play. As the long-term liabilities of Social Security and Medicare threaten to drown the federal government and runaway discretionary spending makes a bad situation worse, Ryan's Road Map provides a realistic, conservative approach to remedying the government's fiscal maladies. As Fred Barnes wrote in these pages Monday, the Road Map simplifies the tax code and lowers tax rates. It also puts the two major unsustainable entitlement programs on the path toward personalization -- a politically risky but fiscally sound idea. The only alternative the Democrats have offered so far is much higher taxes that would threaten future economic growth.
Republicans should embrace Ryan's plan ahead of this fall's elections. There is great political risk in any change to Social Security and Medicare, but the alternative -- trying to be all things to all men and taking power without a mandate -- is far more risky.