The Echo-Chamber Effect, Hobbling Obama as Much as the Right
Conservatives sometimes lament that we can become our own echo chamber, convinced that we’re reaching a larger audience than we really are, unable to relate to or persuade those who don’t already agree with us. It’s a fair criticism. We need to address it.
But the same phenomenon does occur on the other side, and arguably with more severe consequences. Here’s the president, speaking at UC Irvine this weekend, discussing his climate-change and carbon-emission proposal:
It’s pretty rare that you’ll encounter somebody who says the problem you’re trying to solve simply doesn’t exist. When President Kennedy set us on a course for the moon, there were a number of people who made a serious case that it wouldn’t be worth it; it was going to be too expensive, it was going to be too hard, it would take too long. But nobody ignored the science. I don’t remember anybody saying that the moon wasn’t there or that it was made of cheese.
President Obama is really, really, really bothered by the fact that some Americans don’t believe that human activity can significantly impact the climate. To him, this is something to fume about in public. It’s a top priority to him — even if climate change ranks near the bottom of the electorate’s priorities.
Here’s a Tweet from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Monday morning:
The link is to an e-mail signup list for a U.S. State Department conference on oceans.
An audit of the Department of Veterans Affairs found that “more than 57,000 patients have been waiting more than three months for medical appointments at hospitals and clinics run by the VA, and nearly 64,000 others have been enrolled in the system for a decade but have still not been seen by doctors despite their requests,” and Monday brought new revelations of “dozens” of allegations of punishing whistleblowers who balked at falsifying records. One can reasonably argue that VA staffers ought to pay more attention to their actual jobs than to climate-change issues.
The U.S. State Department is currently evacuating nonessential personnel from Iraq, and by the time you read this, we may be evacuating essential personnel, too. They, too, may have more pressing concerns than promoting a conference on oceans.
But the Obama administration has set its agenda for 2014, and it’s not going to let little things like world events get in the way. Obama intends to run upon climate change, the minimum wage, the need for “common sense” gun control, and workplace equality.
He’ll campaign upon the need for “comprehensive immigration reform,” complete with a “path to citizenship,” even though we’re facing a humanitarian crisis on the border from a sudden influx of unattended children — an entirely predictable response to a policy change that provides a path to U.S. citizenship to children who enter the country illegally.
And he’ll spend the summer on his traditional golf and fundraising schedule.
If you ask a conservative what issues are on his mind, you might get a list that included the administration’s shameless dishonesty about the Benghazi terror attack, the national shame that is the VA scandal, and the sense that crises from Ukraine to Syria to Iraq to the South Pacific are spinning out of control. The border is unsecured. Obamacare is a mess, forcing people to buy coverage they don’t want, paying higher premiums than they expected, forced into narrow networks where they can’t keep the doctor they like. We’re letting the worst of the worst out of Guantanamo Bay for one imprisoned American.
You and I know those are legitimate concerns, but a lot of Americans don’t think about those topics much. If you asked those folks either in the middle or tuned out what worries them, and what they wish lawmakers would address, you would probably get a much simpler list.
People are having trouble finding jobs. The jobs don’t pay particularly well. It’s tough to find a good job with manageable hours and decent benefits. There’s no guarantee that your local public school will educate your kids particularly well. If your kids do make the grades they need to get into college, most schools are way too expensive. You can take out student loans, but you’ll spend half your life paying them back, and a college degree is no longer a guarantee of a well-paying job. Are young people able to start their lives, start their careers, get married, start families of their own? How long can young adults last in a perpetual adolescence? With all of these financial pressures coming at people from all directions, retirement seems like a more faraway goal.
It feels like a covenant with Americans, set a generation or two ago, is broken. Perhaps this is what Salena Zito is getting at when she describes the populist storm building in America’s heartland:
It is a cautionary thread — yet most people in Washington do not understand this moderate-in-tone populist wave. First, the wave is not going to take out every incumbent, so no “secret sauce” can “fix” it; second, it will have broad impact on both parties; third, it is relatively invisible because it has no name, no brand or party allegiance.
The problem is that while it’s easy to articulate what feels wrong about modern American life, it’s hard to put together a set of policy proposals that have a decent shot at fixing it. Ultimately, a lot of us would like to live in the America of the 1980s again — a booming economy capable of creating 500,000 new jobs in a month, a military buildup with no actual shooting wars going on, and Bill Cosby on our television screens.
It’s frustrating that the country’s middle or apolitical chunk of the electorate doesn’t share the concerns and priorities of the conservative grassroots. But they also don’t share the concerns and priorities of the progressive grassroots, either. President Obama is going to spend the next few months trying to get a country, beset by crisis after crisis, mess after mess, to ignore what’s worrying them and adopt the priorities of the Left.