Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Magical Thinking

Two weeks ago, liberals were laboring to convince themselves that, since Democrats were heading off a political cliff anyway, they might as well take a graceful swan dive with a major legislative achievement under their belt. That made sense as an electoral tactic: having already alienated most independent voters too badly to get them back by next November, Democrats were well-advised to energize their liberal base in the hope of mitigating the short-term political damage. And if ObamaCare is as good public policy as most liberals think it is, it was reasonable for them to hope that they’d do well politically in the longer term by doing some immediate public policy good. Under the circumstances, liberal politicians owed it to themselves and their ideological comrades to put their longstanding convictions to the test.

Now, the same liberals are trying to decide whether, politically speaking, ramming ObamaCare through has turned Obama into a Reagan-sized Incredible Hulk or an FDR-sized Godzilla.  Here’s the usually level-headed Peter Beinart (my emphasis):

“When Scott Brown won in Massachusetts, it convinced many political observers that the old rules still applied. The country was still basically suspicious of big government, and thus, the only way for a Democratic president to survive was to do what Bill Clinton did after 1994: content himself with incremental change, accept the political parameters that Reagan established, be a Democratic Eisenhower.

When Obama decided to push for comprehensive reform anyway, he signaled that he would not play that role. And when he and the Democrats won, they blew up the old political order. In Washington, for the first time in his presidency, Obama is feared. Suddenly, Democrats are not so terrified about the midterm elections. Influential conservatives like David Frum are scolding their party’s leaders for not cutting a bipartisan deal. The Russians have backed down and signed an arms-control pact that doesn’t scrap missile defense in Eastern Europe. As Helene Cooper of The New York Times recently put it, ‘there is a swagger emanating from the White House that suggests he may now have acquired a liking for the benefits of sticking his neck out to lead.’”
How did Obama “bl[ow] up the old political order”? He and Nancy Pelosi offered enough carrots and brandished enough sticks to get Bart Stupak and five or six other pro-life House Democrats to vote for the Senate Healthcare bill. I’ll grant you that stranger things have happened, but that’s not the sort of thing we normally consider a politically transformative event. “As Stupak goes, so goes the Nation”?

Beinart’s efforts to complete his thought reveal its emptiness (my emphasis):

“Will Obama become hugely popular anytime soon? Probably not. Reagan and the GOP still got clobbered in the 1982 midterm elections, largely because the country was in deep recession. And Obama and the Democrats will probably suffer this fall as well. But if the economy recovers in 2011 and 2012, and Obama rides that recovery to reelection, as Reagan did in 1984, he will be able to say he changed the rules of the political game, and won a mandate from the country. Then we’ll know for sure what more and more people already suspect: The Age of Reagan is over. Welcome to the Age of Obama." 
Got that? If Obama wins the next election “he will be able to say he . . . won a mandate from the country.” Well, isn’t that what elections are for? Funny, I don’t recall anyone besides Karl Rove saying that Bush’s winning reelection in 2004 showed that, by cutting taxes or starting the Iraq war despite his slim 2000 mandate, he’d “changed the rules of the political game” or that the Age of Bush was upon us. Beinart’s saying that about Obama is just the sound of the liberal community stroking itself.

No comments: