In the midterm of its discontent, the Obama administration has become a long catalog of excuses.
It seems everything would be going swimmingly if Washington weren’t so irredeemably broken. In a revelatory interview with Pres. Barack Obama and his aides about what went wrong, Peter Baker of the New York Times reports that the Obama White House constantly complains that Washington is not “on the level,” that “the whole Washington culture is not serious about solving problems.”
If your party has the White House, 59 Senate seats, and 255 House seats, though, for all intents and purposes it is Washington. The Obama Democrats have completed a period of surpassing legislative mastery.
They got a 1,073-page stimulus bill, a 2,409-page health-care bill, and a 2,319-page financial-reform bill passed. That’s 5,801 pages in just three pieces of legislation, at a very conservative cumulative estimated cost of $1.9 trillion over ten years. If this is what Obama’s broken Washington produces in three bills, what would a functioning one do?
For all their reputation as obstructionists, Republicans weren’t able to stop any of this. Unlike in the early Clinton years, Republicans aren’t benefiting from obstructionism so much as from failing to block a president’s deeply unpopular priorities. Washington worked for Obama — and now he’s paying the price.
Much of Washington’s alleged brokenness is the fractiousness inherent to a democratic system, not to mention to human nature. We had poisonous dissension in the nation’s capital before we had political parties and before the capital even moved to Washington. In that sense, Washington was broken before it was Washington.
At bottom, Obama’s problem is with the American public. If his approval rating were ten points higher, no one would be complaining about the political process. On his unpopularity, Obama has two excuses that make for a noxious combination of self-regard and condescension.
In the Times interview, Obama modestly gave himself low marks for “marketing and P.R.,” since he’s so much more focused on “trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right.” This from the man who made himself into a global brand in 2008, and who not too long ago was touted as a genius at the art of political persuasion — Daniel Webster meets FDR.
If his salesmanship isn’t working its magic now, it must be the fault of his froward subjects. Over the weekend, Obama told a Democratic fundraiser that “part of the reason that . . . facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared. And the country is scared.”
Is that really what he thinks of us? We’re driven into the arms of his opponents as a matter of sociobiology? Obama can’t bring himself to take the American people on their own terms. He has now explained religiosity, gun ownership, and opposition to his policies (or as he puts it, “facts and science”) all as the products of economic deprivation and fear.
At one point in the Times interview, Obama tiptoes to the edge of the truth. He says that all his spending reinforced the narrative that “he’s the same old tax-and-spend liberal Democrat.” This is a genuine insight wrapped in self-denial. In a major concession, he acknowledges that forthright, tax-and-spend liberals can’t thrive in America, without admitting that he’s one of them.
People think Washington is broken because it spends too much, it’s instituting massive changes without knowing how or if they’ll work, it’s creating new entitlements when we can’t afford the old ones, and it’s inevitably going to ask for wide-ranging tax increases to pay for the overhang of deficits. Obama used all the Washington muscle and marketing acumen he could muster to push the policies that have created these entirely rational — nay, commonsensical — concerns.
All excuses aside, Obama could have avoided the full force of the reaction against his tax-and-spend liberalism with less liberalism.
— Rich Lowry is editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail, email@example.com. © 2010 by King Features Syndicate.