VULCAN IN CHIEF
Live long and prosper? Nah, death panels and 9% unemployment!
By JAMES TARANTO
The Best of the Web Today / The Wall Street Journal Online
Friday, 22 July 2011
We thought the Boston Globe was a newspaper, but apparently it is a science-fiction fanzine. Get a load of this column by Joshua Green:
Barack Obama took office vowing to usher in a post-partisan era that would drain the toxic anger of the Bush years and focus the country on practical, long-overdue reforms. Like Bush, he was no doubt sincere in wanting to unite the country. Unlike Bush, he has governed in a manner largely consistent with that ideal. A lot of good it's done him: Washington is more poisonous than ever. And as Congress courts disaster by threatening to default on the national debt, Obama must marvel at his plight. Practically a caricature of Spock-like rationality and sober caution, he's presiding over a capital that has become completely unhinged.
Come to think of it, there are major similarities between Obama and Spock. Both have oversize ears. Both were fathered by aliens, although Obama's parents hailed from the same planet. Both are ill suited for command, although Spock was not ambitious enough to seek it.
And of course everyone remembers the episode in which Spock said: "Imagine Captain Kirk drivin' the Enterprise into a wormhole"--Vulcans always drop their g's when they're trying to sound folksy--"and it's a deep wormhole. It's a big wormhole. And somehow he walked away from the accident, and we put on our boots and we transported down into the wormhole--me and Bones and Scotty and Hikaru and Nyota. We've been pushin', pushin', tryin' to get that starship out of the wormhole. And meanwhile, Kirk is standin' there, sippin' on a Slurpee."
OK, we exaggerated. He didn't actually say "Nyota." Lieutenant Uhura didn't have a first name until the 2009 "Star Trek" movie.
Green's entire account of Obama's presidency is as removed from reality as "Star Trek." By what conceivable standard can one claim that the president has "governed in a manner largely consistent" with the "ideal" of "a postpartisan era"--much less that he has been "unlike Bush" in doing so?
Consider the two most controversial legislative initiatives of George W. Bush's first half-term: the 2001 tax cut and the 2002 authorization to use military force against Iraq. Both had substantial bipartisan support: The former passed with "yes" votes from 28 House Democrats and 12 Senate Democrats; the latter had the backing of 81 House Democrats and 29 Senate Democrats.
By contrast, Obama's two biggest legislative initiatives, the so-called stimulus and ObamaCare, had the support of a grand total of three Republicans in both houses combined (all senators who voted in favor of the stimulus).
Now, Obama backers might argue that these were just "practical, long-term reforms," which the Republicans were partisan for opposing. One's own side, after all, is always principled where the other side is partisan. But the majority of voters did not seem to see it this way. The most modest interpretation of the 2010 election results is that Americans thought Obama had gone way too far and wished to restrain him from going further.
Which brings us to the current impasse involving the debt limit. The so-called mainstream media is engaged in a bizarre propaganda effort, aimed not so much at persuading voters to agree with Obama but at convincing politicians that voters agree with Obama. Green provides a particularly good example of this, selectively citing survey numbers to paint a picture of wide public support of the president, when in fact the polls are more ambiguous.
"A majority of Americans now say Congress should raise the [debt] ceiling," Green writes. Perhaps so, in some surveys and subject to certain conditions. But in a Fox News poll released Wednesday, "voters were asked to imagine being a lawmaker in Congress who had to cast an up-or-down vote on raising the debt ceiling. The poll found 35 percent would vote in favor of increasing the limit, while 60 percent would vote against it."
"Two-thirds agree with Obama that any deal should balance spending cuts with tax increases," Green writes. "Only 21 percent favor the Republicans' plan of cuts alone." But according to a CNN poll, 66% favor a proposal in which "Congress would raise the debt ceiling only if a balanced budget amendment were passed by both houses of Congress and substantial spending cuts and caps on future spending were approved." That's the GOP "Cut, Cap and Balance" plan, which the Senate tabled this morning by a 51-46 party-line vote.
"Obama's approval rating, while only around 50 percent, towers over that of his opponents," Green writes. He doesn't mention that presidential approval ratings almost always tower over congressional ones. Anyway, "around 50%" is overly generous. The RealClearPolitics average is 46% (with 48.8% disapproval), and it has been more than a month since any poll showed Obama with an approval rating over 50%.
Even as he falsely claims that "Obama has prevailed" in public opinion, Green acknowledges that the president is "almost certain to lose the fight in Congress":
He'll get the debt limit raised--maybe before a default, maybe after--but only in exchange for a package that will probably consist entirely of cuts totaling at least $1.5 trillion and force his party into a series of politically uncomfortable votes. . . . It's enough to turn anyone into a raving partisan.
If the public is really on Obama's side, he ought to be able to hold out and win a legislative victory. But the truth is that he desperately needs a deal. The politics of default are unpredictable, but it is far from obvious that independents would respond to the chaos we have been told would ensue by re-electing the man who presided over it.
True, this confrontation would not be happening if Democrats still controlled the House. Maybe voters will end up blaming Republicans and end up re-electing Obama and a Democratic House majority. Then again, they may remember what that combination yielded in 2009-10 and conclude that Obama is incapable of governing satisfactorily regardless of which party controls Congress.
In the past four congressional terms, we have cycled through every possible party configuration of White House and House: both Republican in 2005-06, Republican president and Democratic House in 2007-08, both Democratic in 2009-10, and now Democratic president and Republican House. (In each election the Senate has moved in the same direction as the House, although not far enough in 2010 to deprive the Democrats of their majority.)
Voters were anxious for change in 2006, 2008 and 2010, and it's hard to imagine they won't be in 2012. That is a danger for Republicans for sure, but even more so for the one politician whose defeat would spell big change.