Politics & Policy

Defeat, then Denial

Obama’s self-exonerating narrative about the midterm elections is simply wrong.

In 2007, when police busted Rep. Barney Frank’s partner for illegally growing pot, Frank waved away the controversy by saying he hadn’t noticed since he’s “not a great outdoorsman” and has trouble recognizing any plants.

Twenty years earlier, Frank endured another controversy when his one-time partner, personal aide, and roommate was revealed to be running a prostitution service out of Frank’s home. The Massachusetts congressman insisted he hadn’t noticed anything amiss until informed by his landlord.

And when Frank helped fuel a housing bubble that nearly crippled the economy for a generation, he again failed to notice anything was awry until it was obvious for all to see.

#ad#While lesser men, perhaps those not dubbed the “brainiest” man on Capitol Hill by congressional staffers, might worry about accountability, Frank considers it an affront, given his personal and professional record. In short, Frank has a very solid record of obliviousness, denial, and entitlement.

Watch his remarks from Election Night on YouTube, if you missed the spittle-flecked invective live. It’s a rare specimen: an angry victory speech. He seems simply aggrieved that he was forced to take a race seriously. Indeed, he was aggrieved that Republicans refused to get off the mat. “The collective campaigns that were run by most Republicans were beneath the dignity of a democracy,” he huffed, as if he’s a particularly respected arbiter of democratic dignity.

Frank was hardly alone in the sore-winner caucus. Democratic Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia refused to accept a congratulatory concession call from his opponent. 

Why? One reason might be that Moran, like Frank, believed it was beneath him to have to compete for his seat in the people’s House. Or perhaps it was simply that his opponent, Patrick Murray, wasn’t worthy in Moran’s eyes. After all, Moran had complained that Murray was a “stealth candidate” who hadn’t “served or performed in any kind of public service.” Apparently rising to the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army and serving in Iraq didn’t count as public service.

To his credit, President Obama eschewed the nasty arrogance of Frank and Moran. But his denial runs just as deep.

In a press conference that was humble in tone but myopic in substance, Obama reiterated again and again that he got all of the policies right and the American people who disagreed hadn’t studied the issues closely enough. It only “felt” like the government was getting too “intrusive,” Obama explained. Voters had misunderstood the nature of his purely “emergency” measures.

For all of the talk about how Obama has learned from the election, it’s worth remembering this was exactly the same position he held before the election, just in nicer form.

And as it was before the election, Obama’s self-exonerating narrative is simply wrong. His agenda was never back-burnered for emergency measures. If anything, emergency measures were back-burnered for his agenda. In the summer of 2009, he pushed health-care reform while his aides swore he’d eventually get around to “pivoting” to jobs. Government spending seemed to go up and get more intrusive because it did go up and did get more intrusive. Government spending went up 23 percent in two years.

And how was intrusive health-care reform an “emergency measure” to grapple with the financial crisis? It’s not slated to go fully into effect until 2014. It hasn’t had — and was never intended to have — anything like an immediate positive effect on the economy. Indeed, the chief argument for it — which Obama started making years before the financial crisis — was that it was a moral imperative pushed by progressives for generations. Did Harry Truman seek universal health care to fix the financial crisis of 2009?

Republicans — virtually all of them, not just the 60-plus winners who helped wrest control of the House — won by running against Obamacare. But Obama says: “We’d be misreading the election if we thought the American people want to see us for the next two years re-litigate arguments we had over the last two years.”

Now, I will admit that anticipating voters’ desires these days can be tricky. But given the last two years, I would sooner trust Barney Frank to spot a pot bush in his backyard, or Jim Moran to identify legitimate public service, than trust Barack Obama to spot the will of the voters.

 Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, will be released on April 24.

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