Friday, January 15, 2010

Doomed to Succeed

Charles Krauthammer, the dyspeptic conservative columnist at the Washington Post, says that it’s all over for President Obama. His popularity has plummeted and he’s doomed to failure because he had the temerity to come to Washington and actually do things.

It’s inherently risky for any charismatic politician to legislate. To act is to choose and to choose is to disappoint the expectations of many who had poured their hopes into the empty vessel — of which candidate Obama was the greatest representative in recent American political history.

Obama did not just act, however. He acted ideologically. To his credit, Obama didn’t just come to Washington to be someone. Like Reagan, he came to Washington to do something — to introduce a powerful social democratic stream into America’s deeply and historically individualist polity.

Perhaps Obama thought he’d been sent to the White House to do just that. If so, he vastly over-read his mandate. His own electoral success — twinned with handy victories and large majorities in both houses of Congress — was a referendum on his predecessor’s governance and the post-Lehman financial collapse. It was not an endorsement of European-style social democracy.

Hence the resistance. Hence the fall. The system may not always work, but it does take its revenge.

Yeah, it’s a shame that President Obama’s success rate with Congress and his agenda in his first year was only 97%; we expect 100%. It’s too bad that he’s so cool and detached. That’s not the way to lead the nation; who cares if polls are showing that the public approves of the president’s handling of the terror threat and that according to one poll, 66% view him as a “strong leader.” And despite the public’s dissatisfaction with the way things are in the country, other than a bunch of loud-mouth tea-bag-wearing wackos who haven’t got the sense that God gave a goose and who whinny like the horses in Young Frankenstein whenever the president’s name is mentioned, most of the electorate have the common sense to know that the mess wasn’t caused by President Obama, he called it like he saw it, and has actually done something. What seems to bother Dr. Krauthammer is that he thought that when America elected its first African-American president, he would be a figurehead. No, it’s the Republicans who put black men in as figureheads.

It’s incomprehensible to conservatives that someone would be willing to be elected to the office and then risk his political capital to accomplish his agenda. That’s not how things are done by their playbook. You get elected, you make a lot of noise about getting your agenda done. It’s called “setting the tone.” That’s it; you’re not expected to actually risk anything without making sure that there’s a political upside. That’s why Rush Limbaugh has the thoroughly execrable idea that the only reason President Obama is sending aid to Haiti is to burnish his political standing; according to GOP orthodoxy, that’s the only reason to do anything.

Of course, if Mr. Obama was a conservative, Dr. Krauthammer would be breathless with his praise for the “bold and dynamic leadership” that he has shown in his first year in spite of the overwhelming odds of being hobbled by an opposition party on Capitol Hill who collectively covers their ears and refuses to even listen to him and who dismisses the crazy sign-carrying chanters in the streets as nothing more than amusing and Spell Check-challenged riff-raff. “He withstood the temptation to take the easy way out and just coast on his election victory and oratory,” or something like that. He’d make him out to be the victim of the vicious media attacks by the mainstream press and the Villagers inside the Beltway — after all, the Culture of Victimhood is the hallmark of conservatism — and he’d praise him for defying his own party and going all mavericky on them. But then, Dr. Krauthammer wouldn’t have the untrammeled joy of being such a sourpuss.