Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I Don’t Get It

Senator Russ Feingold has always struck me as a pretty sensible guy. So I’m impressed by the fact that he subscribes to the notion that there is something not only unusual, but sinister, about opposition to the Obama presidency. Here Feingold's responding to an interviewer’s question about Obama’s evident unpopularity (my emphasis):
“‘There are two primary reasons [for Obama's unpopularity]. One is the economy. . . . There’s a second factor that’s more cynical. A conscious decision was made by certain groups to destroy this presidency the minute it started. People say it was the health care bill – no, it wasn’t. I go to every county every year and hold a town meeting. Within days of the president being sworn in, I had people showing up at my town meeting with hats on, with tea bags coming out, saying this is going to be socialism.’"
You hear liberal Democrats saying this sort of thing all the time. But I’ve never had the slightest clue as to what, if anything, they're talking about. Nearly all presidents come into office despite the preferences of at least 45% of the voters. So they’re bound to encounter political opposition as soon as they try to govern, especially when their agenda is as ambitious as Obama’s.

Winning an election confers the authority on a presidential candidate to make executive decisions and entitles him to a fair shot at getting Congress to act on his legislative agenda. When a president’s successful, that means that every citizen incurs a weighty civic obligation to abide by public decisions implementing that agenda, even when he thinks they're ill-advised. It doesn’t, and can’t, mean that anyone has an obligation to support a president’s agenda or to refrain from using all the political resources at his disposal to oppose it. That’s not how representative democracy works.

It’s the job of the party in opposition to oppose in the expectation that its elected members will be held accountable for their conduct in the next election.  So it’s for voters to decide whether tea bags and dire warnings about creeping socialism are acceptable instruments of political opposition. It looks, however regrettably, like a lot of voters have decided that they are. Would someone tell me what Republicans have done “to destroy” the Obama presidency beyond effectively mobilizing public opinion against it?  And while you're at it, could you please explain how they could have incurred some kind of civic obligation to pull their punches?

I suspect liberal politicians would do better in elections if they stopped leaving the impression that they think they're entitled to govern without serious opposition.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope your kidding.

The right has pursued the tactic, from about the middle of the 2008 campaign, that Obama is illegitimate, and not entitled to his office, his position, or even the formal respect nominally the office of the presidency.

Here is a short list of the litany of charges widely thrown in Obama's direction by the right:

1. Obama was not born in the United States, and is not entitled to be president.

2. Obama is actually a Muslim, only pretending to be a Christian.

3. Obama is a secret Marxist / Socialist / Nazi, whose underlying agenda is actually the destuction--not the promotion--of the interests of the United States.

4. Obama was not legitimately elected: widespread voter fraud by Acorn was sufficient to throw the election (believed by > 30% of registered Republicans).

5. Obama is a blustering incoherent fool, the tool of radicals such as William Ayers, that cannot even form a rational sentence without the help of a Teleprompter.

6. Obama is actually a racist, dedicated to wreaking revenge on white America for slavery.

None of the above are constrained only to "fringe" political players, but were repeated over and over by mainstream players within the Republican party, and the supporting media infrastructure (Fox News, Limbaugh, former executive branch officials, etc.)

This is a fundamentally different tactic than that taken by the left with respect to Republican presidencies. They generally took the form of "Bush is dumb," or "Bush lied to push policies that the public would not have otherwise supported," or "the Republicans are so vested in the evils of government that they cannot run a functional one."

The latter assertions are based on actual behavior (whether you agree with the analysis or not), and were reasonable--although, perhaps, partisan--inferences based on values and behavior.

What the conservatives have done is considerably more sinister. From Day One of the the Obama administration, they have made a determined, sustained, and concerted effort to hollow out the president, the respect that is shown towards him, and the essential legitimacy of government, even in times of opposition.