Strange things are happening to the Obama administration and quickly so. His polls are diving and may not stop at 50/50, the most precipitous drop in approval of a first-year President since Bill Clinton in 1993 (cf. Hillary care).
First, here are some of the problems the President faces:
Symptoms and Diagnosis
1) Health Care. Health-care take overs and socialized medicine have terrified not just the right and conservatives, but the elderly of all persuasions who fear their shaky Medicare funds will be diverted to Obama’s new plans. In short, they believe their care will be rationed and given to all sorts of new recipients. And they fear age will be a basis for meriting treatment; as if the gang banger with a long felony record of mayhem at 22 would be more deserving before a federal health panel than would someone at 90 who scrimped and saved for insurance in case of some future need for a hip replacement (and was still active and productive; cf. great octogenarians from Sophocles to Barzun who did their best work in their late lives).
It was an insane political move to demonize these town-hallers, when streaming video showed the participants scared and angry, but not violent, trying to get answers from smug politicos who either cell phoned away, ridiculed questioners in the manner of Barney Frank, or mocked their interrogators. These were for the most part not Code Pink/Cindy Sheehan type protestors. (And by the way, what happened to Code Pink, given we are still in Iraq and Afghanistan?)
2) The Spell is Broken. Cap-and-trade, the mega-deficits, the apology tours, and the sleaze of some appointments and congressional grandees (cf. Rangel, Dodd, Murtha, etc.) were stimulants, but not in themselves enough to awaken the somnolent American people from their collective trance. Yet health care was like a shot of adrenaline that jolted the patient out of his slumber. Suddenly hope and change no longer worked like the swinging watch and “you’re getting sleepy” lingo. Voters are feeling they’ve been “had” and were mesmerized into being used for an extremist agenda.
Who made the following decisions? 1) to propose a 1,000 page bill that no one had read, much less could explain?; 2) to ram down the greatest change in the US economy in fifty years by the August recess?; 3) to talk loosely of the “uninsured” without knowing why they were not insured, how much it would cost to insure them, or whether they currently in fact find some sort of care?; 4) to reference Rahm Emanuel’s doctor brother as a source of wisdom? 5) to demonize the health-care industry as greedy?
(NB: Does Obama really believe that illegal aliens do not possess 200-300 dollars a month to buy catastrophic health coverage, when they send on average at least that amount back to Mexico on the assumption the emergency room here is free, for everything from injuries to natal care? Does he believe that a 25-year old does not gamble that his robust health means he prefers his I-pod, DVDs, and nights out to squirreling away cash each month for health insurance? There are flaws in our system that must be corrected, but the notion of conspirators in black hats who plot to prevent health care for the “uninsured” is fallacious.
3) The Counter-attack is not working. The Obama shotgun has blasted all sorts of magnum loads—town-hall and tea-party critics were un-American, Nazis, tools of the insurance industry, dupes, and Astro-turfers. Now the religious argument is thrown out at the 11th hour: those who doubt neo-socialist care are somehow un-Christian and uncaring. But that tactic evokes Trinity-Church politics, where religious piety rings false and serves political advantage. Did not the Christian Right get demonized for just that avenue of political mobilization? And because Obama assumed messianic pretensions, such a prophet suffers the wage of hypocrisy, given the growing reality that he is, on the presidential scale, rather mean spirited, highly partisan, too sensitive to criticism, and surprisingly ill-informed given the emphasis on his Ivy-League education and the whiz-kids around him (who wrote the error-plagued Cairo speech).
1) Cool the “this is our moment”, “hope and change” rhetoric. Obama reminds me of what Wellington supposedly said of Napoleon’s Old Guard at Waterloo “They came on in the same old way, and we sent them back in the same old way.” Instead, he should quietly follow the 1995 triangulation model of Bill Clinton/Dick Morris.
Instead of the old sops of welfare reform, school uniforms, balanced budgets, and more police officers on the street (I’m not being entirely cynical here), Obama should concentrate on debt, debt, and more debt. He could freeze federal spending at 2% per annum, and get into the black in two-three years, given his income tax hikes. He could pacify the Left with, “I’d love to pursue our socialist agenda, but we are going broke and cannot right now.”
Instead of cap-and-trade, he could allot a few feminist, green and gay ambassadorships that would not impact the federal treasury. Given the sudden silence on Iraq, the Left has demonstrated that their furor was always about power lost and hatred for George Bush in the White House, never much about principles or convictions. That Obama is in the White House is more important to most former critics of Bush than anything he does or says.
2) Return to the “no more blue/red state” bipartisan tropes. Consider Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barney Frank as the real challenges, since the animosity that they engender can do far more damage to Barack Obama than Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and all of the Fox News cast put together. Voters are more comfortable with Blue Dogs than Barbara Boxer. Soon the tea-party anger is going to spill over and result in Boxer, Reid, etc. having reelection nightmares.
3) Retire Robert Gibbs. He is as disingenuous as Ron Ziegler; as buffoonish as Scott McClellan; as abrasive as Ari Fleischer without the accompanying competence; and as mean-spirited as Bill Moyers. He must be some sort of Republican plant? (David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel seem likewise increasing liabilities. Axelrod is knee-deep in conflict of interest problems (his former firm is paying out his final settlement in part from business generated from Axelrod’s present West Wing influence). Emanuel is the architect of ramming through these borrow-and-spend radical proposals all at once, on the theory that a left-wing government can be institutionalized and permanent constituencies established before the public catches on and the treasury can borrow no more.)
4) Stop the apologies abroad and emphasize the continuance of the war on terror (renditions, tribunals, Predators, etc.). Stay the course in Afghanistan and don’t broadcast our intentions in Iraq. The model is Truman and JFK, not McGovern and Jimmy Carter. Read up on Iwo Jima and Chosun, and cool the victim studies chants.
5) End the class warfare against those who make over $150,000 (or is it $200,000 or is it $250,000?), and begin to thank them for creating national wealth and giving so much of it back to the government (state, federal, and payroll taxes already result in a 50 percent plus bite for many). As it is now, Obama’s agenda is not so much against the wealthy (the rich own the homes he vacations in, organized the salons that enriched him in the campaign, and are among his most generous supporters and recipients of insider favors), as it is directed at those who wish to be wealthy.
And the Republicans?
1) Mea Culpa. At some point the opposition will have to offer counterproposals that are the opposite of the financial recklessness of 2001-06. On health care reform, they could offer tax incentives for private health care accounts, craft subsidies for the poor to purchase private catastrophic plans, and insist on tort reform. It won’t do any good to blast Obama for bankrupting the treasury if conservatives still vote in multi-billion-dollar agriculture subsidies, expand earmarks, and dream up new programs like No Child Left Behind and Prescription Drug expanded benefits. The Republicans gain from the Obama meltdown, but will be embarrassed when voters turn and ask , “And you? What have you got for us that is any better?” and they have no detailed reply.
2) Clean House. If opponents are to emphasize the Democratic sleaze—Rangel, Dodd, Murtha, the Obama Cabinet tax-cheaters, Axelrod, etc—then they must pledge no more Tom Delays, Duke Cunningham’s, Mark Foleys, and Jack Abramoffs. Parts of the success of the old Contract with America were provisions about congressional behavior.
3) Something Different This Time. Conservatives must appreciate that Obamism transcends the usual liberal challenge posed by past Democrats. For a variety of reasons, the liberal agenda this time is much more far-reaching and systematic. Obama proposes not just to grow government and absorb much more of the nation’s GDP into the state, but to create a lasting legacy of statism.
His “gorge the beast” philosophy of mega-deficits ensures the goal of “spreading the wealth” (cf. his campaign interview in which he was unfazed by the point that targeted tax cuts and economic expansion brought in greater federal revenue). Income is deemed arbitrary and compensation not rational; thus government is called upon to even things out given its greater wisdom and superior moral sensibility. The rapid growth in the state leads to permanent loyal constituencies of those who grant and receive entitlements—and could not be undone for generations, if ever. A religiosity surrounds these proposals, and critics (“fishy”) are targeted on email and websites, considered un-American and now un-Christian, in one of the most glaring examples of the utopian ends justifying devious means that we have seen in our lifetimes.
In exasperation I think Obama’s supporters will revert to the race card more often still, which in turn will only take his popularity even lower. Because of his inexperience and unfamiliarity with political hostility, I think Obama will press ahead on the present course, heightening partisan tensions, dividing the country, and ultimately diminishing his presidency further still. Again, the voters wanted youth, charisma, competence, fiscal sobriety, non-partisanship, and are getting radicalism with an increasing edge to it.
An inflation-, debt-induced mini-recovery, I think, will help Obama by early next year. But the laws of physics will then catch up to him, as a falling dollar, high interest, high inflation, low growth, and high unemployment return to choke off a return to former prosperity. His political fortunes will hinge on what part of this economic cycles the elections fall, and the degree to which he jettisons the Chicago style (I predict many of us critics will be fully audited by next April or see Team Obama increase the swarm on websites and postings). With savvy Democratic role models like Truman, JFK, and Clinton, it is suicidal that he pursues a Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, or Kerry agenda—as if he really thinks voters supported him to resurrect such unpopular policies.
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