Monday, October 04, 2010

Nothing Says "Opinion Column" Like a False Dichotomy

Borrowing a page from the David Brooks style book, Ross Douthat lectures,
On one side was the liberal left — populist in economics and dovish on foreign policy, in favor of lavish spending programs and suspicious of big business, and hostile to any idea that seemed to give an inch to the conservatives. On the other were the moderates and centrists — pro-market and pro-Wall Street, inclined to tiptoe rightward on issues like crime and welfare, and hawkish about deficits and dictators alike.
Even if we pretend that Douthat's false dichotomy reflects the diversity of the Democratic Party, his thesis fails. The faction Douthat imagines as "populist in economics and dovish on foreign policy, in favor of lavish spending programs and suspicious of big business" has had no material impact on the Obama Administration's governance. The "lavish spending" of the Obama Administration was in large part a continuation of the "lavish spending" of the Bush Administration. The Obama Administration has been content to ignore far left factions when forming its policies, and to criticize those same factions for belittling his accomplishments. If you were to imagine a tug-of-war between the two sides Douthat imagines, the left side was dragged into the pit perhaps on... day two of Obama's presidency?

Mario Cuomo provided a far better analysis of how a politician who seems to be everything to everyone during a campaign can lose that popular enthusiasm once in office, and he managed it in the space of a sentence: "You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose."

As for Douthat's conceit that the best way to govern a nation is for the President to "unit[e] his supporters around their common fears", I expect that both of his imaginary Democratic factions would unite in rejecting that idea. Seriously - is that the America in which Douthat wants to live? He applauds that approach as taken by the Republican Party?

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