Is the honeymoon over? is a big question this weekend, what with the fairly ubiquitous hits, even from the maintream media, that the White House is taking for wasting time and political capital on an amateurish — failed — bid for the Olympics. Until a few moments ago, I would have said no, not really. This is just a spat. It is a spat on an entirely acceptable matter, at that — a display of less-than-polished politics from an administration that has offered smooth enough politicking to overcome lack of substance in a long list of areas. The media has not ratcheted the love down yet.
To be sure, there has been a tiny bit of flak — from the left — about Obama’s failure to radically revamp the economy fast enough. Last night Saturday Night Live chimed in, amusingly enough, with this. That is getting closer to serious criticism, actually. But of course we are happy that the far left is not happy.
And then I read Frank Rich’s column in today’s New York Times. I despise pretty much everything political I have ever read by Rich. He very sincerely seems to believe that weakness is powerful, that the U.S. should not win any conflicts, that there is no honest conservatism, only hatred of the world’s have-nots. Normally I don’t read him, but there the column was, posted on my favorite aggregator site. And whoa. What a column. Read it here.
Barack Obama promised a change from this revolving-door, behind-closed-doors collaboration between special interests and government. He vowed to “do our business in the light of day” — with health care negotiations broadcast on C-Span — and to “restore the vital trust between people and their government.” He said, “I intend to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over.” That those lobbyists would so extravagantly flaunt their undiminished role shows just how little they believe that a new sheriff has arrived in Dodge. . . .
Obama’s promise to make Americans trust the government again was not just another campaign bullet point; it’s the foundation of his brand of governance and essential to his success in office. At the first anniversary of the TARP bailout of the banks, we can see how far he has to go. Americans’ continued suspicion that Washington is in cahoots with powerful interests . . . is contributing to their confusion and skepticism about what’s happening out of view in the battle over health care reform.
The public is not wrong. The administration’s legislative deals with the pharmaceutical companies were made in back rooms. Business Week reported in early August that the UnitedHealth Group and its fellow insurance giants had already quietly rounded up moderate Democrats in the House to block any public health care option that would compete with them for business. UnitedHealth’s hired Beltway gunslingers include both Elmendorf Strategies and [Tom] Daschle, a public supporter of the public option who nonetheless does some of his “wink, wink” counseling for UnitedHealth. The company’s in-house lobbyist is a former chief of staff to Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader. [Dick] Gephardt consults there too.
Got it? Frank Rich, of all people, concludes that “the public is not wrong” to mistrust the intentions of an administration that wishes to revamp one-sixth of the economy, given the attendant realities, including serious corruption. This is actual progress in the debate, even if it doesn’t quite get to the libertarian understanding that when government controls the economy, precisely that sort of corruption is inevitable — even if the new president was serious about stopping it. Bravo, Frank.