Monday, June 22, 2009

Ruling vs. Governing

Ross Douthat chortles now that that Democrats are in power, they actually have to run things instead of having to bollix things up for the Republicans.

In recent years, liberalism has profited from the impasse. Liberals torpedoed the Bush administration’s attempt to trim Social Security benefits. They demagogued John McCain in 2008, when he proposed a market-based health care plan and hinted at means-testing Medicare.

But now it’s their turn to actually run the country. And just as Bush-era conservatives couldn’t really make tax cuts pay for themselves, Obama-era Democrats aren’t really going to be able to finance universal health care without substantial middle-class tax increases, or substantial spending cuts.

They’re looking for both, and maybe they can pull it off. The Bush administration saved its hard choices — on health care, entitlements and taxes — for the second term, and then ran out of political capital. The Obama administration is trying to tackle the hard stuff early, while it still has that first-term glow, and the power that comes with it.

The difference is that the Democrats, by and large, actually want to govern, not just win elections. The giveaway is that President Obama is taking on the tough stuff right out of the gate — which led to the Republicans claiming he was taking on too much. For them, that’s too much like actually governing instead of just planning your next fund-raiser with the NRA and the Church of I Hate You. By the way, it wasn’t the liberals who torpedoed Bush’s half-hearted attempts to reform Social Security. He couldn’t get that to fly when he had control of both houses of Congress in 2005; even the Republicans couldn’t get behind it.

The GOP has always been very good at knocking down the ideas and programs put forward by the Democrats, but when it comes to coming up with counter proposals, they’ve got nothing. For the last two weeks we’ve heard a segment of the GOP taking President Obama to task for not jumping into the Iranian election aftermath, but they’re not really specific about what he should — or can — actually do that will accomplish anything other than just cement the propaganda that the protesters are American-led stooges. On health care they are quick to get the vapours over “socialized medicine,” but they’ve yet to come up with any alternative ideas that they haven’t been trotting out since the Truman administration. As Steve Benen notes, government-run health insurance and health care, as demonstrated by Medicare and the Veterans Health Administration, are models of efficiency that the HMO’s can only dream of.

Mr. Douthat concludes, “To govern is to choose. But with choices like these, liberals may find themselves pining for the days when somebody else was the decider.” And the people chose, and they decided to go with a president who would rather govern than rule.