Wednesday, April 08, 2009

False Claims of Partisanship

Looking at Obama's overall approval ratings, you would have the impression that the vast majority of Americans approve of what he's doing. But there's something hidden beneath that remarkable level of public support. Republicans strongly disapprove. Why, then, the disconnect between the overall ratings and the Republican ratings? This would appear to be the result of eight years of misrule under G.W. Bush - Obama has done a great job of uniting Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans (many of whom no longer self-identify as Republican).

Needless to say, the Republican party memo wants to paint a different picture - of Obama as the divider of nations. As usual, reliable stenographers like Michael Gerson are happy to spin those memos into columns.

Gerson starts out by trying to explain the changes since the time of Nixon and Carter, that could help explain why support for Presidents breaks down along partisan lines. He somehow misses that the change was brought on by Nixon, who was a pioneer of divisive polities, embraced the southern strategy, and topped everything off by embarrassing the nation and degrading his office. Carter did well, initially, on what could be deemed the Nixon rebound. But the division of the nation is part of Nixon's legacy, and was taken to new heights by Gerson's lord and master, G.W. Bush., under whom there was supposed to emerge a permanent Republican majority and under whom any majority, no matter how slight, justified pushing through any Republican agenda, no matter how radical.

The Republican Party has chosen a path of obstructionism. As any reader of his columns would expect, Gerson has their back. Nothing's "bipartisan" unless it crosses party lines - even if 60 or 70% of Americans support Obama's agenda, as long as the Republicans in the House or Senate maintain party unity, Gerson is going to whine that Obama isn't sufficiently bipartisan. If Republicans oppose Obama's agenda or, worse, if the oppose it and can't stop it, Gerson stands ready to whine that the success of a bill is "a landmark of ineffective governance". Gerson also displays a form of dishonesty, typical of both him and much of the establishment media,
Democratic leaders talk of enacting controversial elements of the budget through the "reconciliation" process - which would require 51 Senate votes, not the normal 60, for passage.
Is Gerson truly not smart enough to know that legislation can pass in the Senate on the strength of a majority vote? Obviously he knows that. His complaint is that the budget reconciliation process makes it impossible for the Republicans to filibuster, and that they just have to win votes by persuading a handful of Democrats that their ideas are superior to Democratic proposals. Oh, the horror.

Gerson then attacks Obama's budget, opening with a statement that's almost comical:
I am not generally a deficit hawk.
No, a guy who was cheerleader in chief for a President who turned record budget surpluses into record deficits, refused any sensible tax policy, refused any sensible spending policy, and decided to deficit spend our way through an extraordinarily expensive war of choice (also supported by Gerson) is not a deficit hawk. (Meanwhile, that same President failed to notice or take action to prevent an alarming crisis in the nation's financial industry that has precipitated the need for massive stimulus spending and trillion dollar bailouts.) And what are the consequences of the failed policies of Gerson's lord and master?
It makes broad tax increases nearly inevitable. It expands our dependence on China, America's loan officer. And it creates pressure for the government to purchase or monetize debt, leading to inflation.
How good of Gerson to notice what has already happened - but how odd that he sees Bush's "accomplishments" as attributable to an Obama budget that has yet to pass.
No Republican, even of the moderate variety, could accept a budget that spends America into unsustainable debt by completely avoiding the setting of realistic priorities.
Maybe the term Gerson is looking for is "fiscal conservative", because you don't have to look back very far to remember when Congressional Republicans were giddily doing exactly that in support of Bush's agenda. But that was okay because Bush was a uniter, not a divider never promised to build consensus. Or something like that.
It would have been relatively easy for President Obama to divide the Republican coalition, peeling off less-partisan Republicans with genuine outreach.
And so far, despite Republican obstreperousness, he's done just that. (Gerson didn't notice, for example, that the stimulus bill passed?) Gerson seems to believe that Obama's bipartisanship must involve sufficient sacrifice of core ideals, and sufficient betrayal of policies the majority of our legislators and the majority of Americans believe will put the country back on the right track,1 in the name of winning over Republican votes not necessary to achieve passage of his legislative agenda. What was Obama's reward for offering elements of the Republican agenda in his stimulus bill? Oh yes... zero Republican votes in the house, and gloating from Michael Gerson.

If Gerson weren't such a coward, he would be telling his own party why their positions have been successfully marginalized. Because when you propose a stimulus plan that betrays a fundamental ignorance of what economic stimulus involves, or you propose an "if wishes were ponies" budget proposal,2 devoid of specifics and omitting any hard choices, in response to the budget proposed by the White House, you don't deserve to be taken seriously.

Were Gerson willing to be part of his party's solution, instead of part of its problem, he would be lambasting his party for its lack of ideas, lack of initiative, lack of seriousness. Unless the only ideas Gerson is capable of developing are those that come to him from party headquarters, he would probably find his time better spent by suggesting to his party how it might get back on track, rather than complaining that Obama is successfully presiding over the nation without catering to a sorry group of obstructionist dead-enders.

1. It doesn't necessarily make him wrong, but it's worth noting that the only economist Gerson cites is Michael Boskin, the guy who deems it irrelevant to our nation's future whether we manufacture computer chips or potato chips. In this time of crisis, in my opinion, that attitude toward technology and manufacturing jobs poses a much greater threat to our nation's future than does the budget deficit.

2. Take a look at the flowchart on page 17. Everything goes into a magic box and, voila, we have a low cost of living. Maybe that's honest - I don't think the cost of living was particularly high, for example, during the Great Depression - it's just that nobody had money. But is there another interpretation under which the document isn't cartoonish, inviting easy parody?


  1. Totally unfair, Aaron. He's not GENERALLY a deficit hawk. Why, I bet he takes showers, makes toast in the morning and gets the oil changed in his car without in any way being a deficit hawk. For you to present "deficit hawk" as an absolute statement is just one more example of the kind of mushy liberal thinking I've unfortunately come to expect from this blog.

    ....and it worries me that I can generate conservative duckspeak on the fly that easily.....

  2. Ah, but I'm agreeing with Gerson's self-characterization, not disagreeing as you.... On reflection, I guess that actually supports your final point.


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