Politics & Policy

The Liberal Temper Tantrum

Do supporters of Obamacare think we're stupid? Yes, some do.

The great temper tantrum has begun. It involves as much red-faced foot-stomping, breath-holding, and chair-pounding as you’d expect from a five-year-old who didn’t get a Zhu Zhu for Christmas last year.

Liberal pundits are beginning to grapple with the fact that President Obama’s “transformational” agenda may be dead, and are lashing out at the American public and our institutions of government. That President Obama himself might be at fault for reaching for too much, too fast, apparently never enters their minds.

#ad#The opening salvo came from Joe Klein who declared Americans, as he put it in the title of a blog post, “Too Dumb to Thrive.” Their offense? Thinking that the stimulus has been wasted. Klein hit these fools with a killer riposte — they’ve been getting $60 to $80 extra in their paychecks every month thanks to tax rebates.

Assuming that most Americans noticed, are they really obligated to consider a policy a success because they’re getting a few extra bucks? Many of them are probably saving the money, anyway, when the theory was that they’d all be spending it to rapidly revive the economy in a flurry of renewed consumer demand.

Klein then informs the clueless masses that another $275 billion went to grants to states and localities, and concludes that ignorant Americans don’t realize that only these stimulus funds have kept their teachers employed. Except it’s hard to believe the country would have seen mass layoffs of teachers in the absence of these dollars.

“Remember all those ‘shovel-ready’ projects,” Klein continues. “Well, they didn’t exist.” Really? So the president of the United States sold the stimulus as a quick fix for joblessness based partly on a concept that was fictional and then the American public has the audacity to believe the stimulus hasn’t worked as advertised? What idiots!

Klein thinks all the big hiring will begin during the next year when the highway, smart-grid, and fast-train projects come online. Never mind that Christina Romer says the major effect of the stimulus is already behind us. Even if these projects are an employment bonanza, it’ll be two or three years after the recession began and many of those projects — especially the high-speed rail — are dubious on the merits. People are perfectly reasonable in concluding the stimulus was a gargantuan, poorly conceived scatter-shot spending bill that, yes, has been a waste.

But Klein thunders: “It’s very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don’t make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you’re a nation of dodos.”

This is outcome-based respect for the American public and for democracy. The people must have been just as stupid when they elected Barack Obama a year or so ago, no? Funny how their collective IQ suddenly drops as soon as they aren’t as enthralled by the president as his still-besotted journalistic admirers demand.

Jacob Weisberg weighs in with his own attack on the public, “Down with the People.” He is irked that the public supported the stimulus, then opposed it. Why can’t people make up their minds? But is it really so outlandish that most people thought a stimulus was necessary in the teeth of the downturn but as the sprawling nature of the stimulus bill sank in, as unemployment climbed above the administration’s projections, and as the “saved or created” rubric proved pliable to the point of meaninglessness, people changed their minds?


Weisberg is surely correct that the public has contradictory attitudes toward government, tending to oppose big government in theory while supporting individual programs that benefit them. This isn’t exactly news. But Weisberg notes the “growing incoherence of the public at large.” Presumably every day the Obama program stays stalled, the public gets more incoherent.

Weisberg divides politicians up into “the minority of serious politicians in either party who are prepared to speak directly about our choices,” and the panderers. He puts Obama and his team in the first category. Even though Obama at one point in the 2008 campaign said his program would be a net spending cut and has been, with a blizzard of dishonest or questionable assertions, selling a new $1 trillion as essentially painless: It will reduce costs while covering more people and increasing quality and letting people keep their current insurance. It’s the health-care equivalent of the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

#ad#That the public has seen through this and doesn’t want to add another dubiously financed entitlement on top on the ones we already have speaks to its fundamental common sense rather than its helpless contradictions.

Kurt Andersen writes in a similar vein in his piece, “Is Democracy Killing Democracy?” In Andersen’s opinion, “American democracy has gotten way too democratic.” We didn’t hear this very often a year or so ago when joyous crowds greeted every Obama appearance, as he promised to transform the ways of Washington in a great wave of democratic change. Then, democracy seemed kinda cool, fresh, invigorating, inspiring. Now that it’s tea-partiers who are rising up against Washington, democracy is veering dangerously out of control.

Andersen is right, of course, when he says that the Founders were (appropriately) suspicious of untrammeled democracy and designed a government to restrain it. But American democracy quickly took on a more populist cast than many of the Founders envisioned, which is one reason the Federalists went extinct (Gordon Wood recounts this period compellingly in his excellent Empire of Liberty).

Oddly, in a piece warning of the perils of democracy, Andersen includes a shot at the filibuster as “a crudely undemocratic maneuver.” He darkly notes the roots of the word “filibuster” in “maritime criminality,” and rues that it has come to be used so often. But in his allergy to democratic excess, surely Andersen should be delighted at the frequent use of the filibuster?

The filibuster has been a particular target of liberal rage recently, as has the Senate more broadly. The greatest deliberative body in the world, we’re told, is rendering America “ungovernable. Paul Krugman huffs that “the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government.”

The Senate will always be unpopular with the side of the political spectrum that has an inflated congressional majority in a hurry to pass a transformational agenda. Conservatives weren’t so fond of the Senate in 1995, either. But the Senate is designed to be a brake on hasty, ill-considered change.

As has been pointed out even by Democrats recently in the pre-criminations over the death of Obamacare, getting major legislation through the Senate requires starting from the center with a pool of ten to twelve senators from the other side and working out from there. Liberals didn’t have the patience for this, nor the desire. They thought they could dispense with serious compromise (except among themselves) and get most of what they wanted on a partisan vote with maybe a Republican vote or two to give it a veneer of bipartisanship. It was a high-risk, high-reward strategy. Now that we know just how risky, liberals are raging at their fate.

I wrote a tongue-in-cheek column a while back asking if supporters of Obamacare thought we were stupid. Now, we know. Some of them do indeed think the public is stupid and out-of-control and all the rest of it. If Obama and his program sink further, expect more of the same, in what will be a bout of whinging for the ages.

Will it be edifying? No. Entertaining? Oh, yes.

Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.

Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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