Politics & Policy

Deep in the Obama Bunker

Amidst a potentially historic revolt against the status quo, the former agent of change offers only more of the same.

Who is trapped in a deeper, more inaccessible bunker? The 33 Chilean miners getting food, water, and messages from the outside world through a tiny borehole, or Rahm Emanuel and the fellas at the White House who have apparently not yet received word that the American public is summoning itself for a shattering rejection of the administration’s spending?

Pres. Barack Obama floated another $50 billion in infrastructure spending in a Labor Day speech in Milwaukee to union supporters as part of his highly touted, long-delayed “pivot to jobs.” But this is not a pivot, let alone to jobs, and makes you wonder if the Obama team realizes it’s not February 2009 anymore.

The administration already lavished more than $100 billion on infrastructure in its first stimulus bill. This new round of proposed spending is supposedly different because it will be “fully paid for,” in Obama’s words, but Congress has been struggling to reauthorize the transportation bill that expired more than a year ago precisely because it’s so hard to cover its costs. As for jobs, only the handful of believers in the “summer of recovery” will think that another shot of infrastructure spending will do anything for the job market soon, if ever.

During the past week, the entire political-media establishment awakened to the catastrophe awaiting Democrats in the fall. A CNN poll found that among voters who dislike both parties — one in five voters — Republicans now lead by 38 points. That’s a landslide, among voters who don’t even like them!

Among independents, according to CNN, Republicans lead by an outlandish 62 to 30. Polls are routinely picking up unheard-of GOP leads of roughly ten points in the generic ballot. To give you an idea of the scale of that advantage, if Republicans lead the generic ballot by “just” five points, Alan Abramowitz of Emory University forecasts a Republican pickup of 49 House seats, ten more than what’s needed to take the majority.

To beat back the coming wave, Obama is resorting to tactics and arguments that will only augment it. He wants to write George W. Bush’s name onto the 2010 ballot, even though he’s been safely retired back to Texas for two years. In a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, 58 percent think Republicans will pursue different policies from Bush. Obama’s insistence otherwise smacks of backward-looking blame-shifting.

The other day, Obama congratulated himself on his campaigning ability. But his signature strength on the stump is derision. He doesn’t just say that Republicans drove the proverbial car into the ditch; he says they’re sipping a proverbial Slurpee while Democrats work to get it out. In Milwaukee, he said his opponents have been talking about him “like a dog,” a line that both demeaned the arguments of the opposition and revealed an unflattering flash of self-pity.

Obama is not even pretending anymore to represent a different kind of politics. On anything not involving foreign policy, it’s slashing partisanship all the time. For the first time in the Washington Post/ABC News poll, a majority says he has not brought needed change to Washington, once his trademark promise. The White House counts on Obama’s fired-up and contemptuous riffs playing to the base. What about the rest of the country?

Obama’s domestic program has become one enormous wedge issue, the classic definition of which is anything that drives a “wedge” between the bulk of the electorate and a politician’s core supporters. While most people want less of Obama’s program, his base wants more. Obama could ease off his spending to try to take the edge off the brewing backlash, but that would anger his supporters. Instead, he promises his union-member allies yet more infrastructure projects. His new proposals for business-tax breaks are paid for not with spending cuts, but with countervailing business-tax increases, lest the Left throw a fit.

Amidst a potentially historic revolt against the status quo, the former agent of change offers only more of the same.

Rich Lowry is editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail, comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2010 by King FeaturesSyndicate.


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