Saturday, May 29, 2010

Back and Forth

I really don’t get into stories about columnists going at each other; it’s a little too much inside baseball, and it requires a foreknowledge of the players and their personalities to a degree that most people don’t have. But the exchange yesterday wherein Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal proclaimed the end of the Obama administration because of his handling of the oil spill and Andrew Sullivan shreds her is pretty good and serves as a touchstone for those of us who are damned tired of listening to the right-wing hacks get away with bloviation and bullshit and not get called out on it. Mind you, Andrew Sullivan is not a left-winger, either.

First, Ms. Noonan pronounces her verdict:

I don’t see how the president’s position and popularity can survive the oil spill. This is his third political disaster in his first 18 months in office. And they were all, as they say, unforced errors, meaning they were shaped by the president’s political judgment and instincts.

There was the tearing and unnecessary war over his health-care proposal and its cost. There was his day-to-day indifference to the views and hopes of the majority of voters regarding illegal immigration. And now the past almost 40 days of dodging and dithering in the face of an environmental calamity. I don’t see how you politically survive this.


The disaster in the Gulf may well spell the political end of the president and his administration…

She goes on to tell us that Mr. Obama is no longer popular with the Democratic base, that he is weak and dithering, and that the oil spill will be his Hurricane Katrina. (Why the Republicans keep making that comparison, which only admits to the world that they agree that President Bush blew it, is beyond me.) She ends it by doing what she does best: shaking her head like a good concern troll and warning the GOP not to get too cocky; it could happen to them and prove that Big Guv’ment doesn’t do anything well.

Mr. Sullivan takes her apart bit by bit.

She claims the Democrats don’t love him. The latest poll of polls shows over 80 percent support. She claims that he is “weakened, polarizing and lacking broad public support.” Really? With unemployment at near record highs after a deep recession, Obama’s approval ratings are stuck just below 50 percent – and have been remarkably stable for months. At this point in his presidency, Obama is about five points more popular than Reagan, who was poised to drop to 37 percent approval by January of 1983. Clinton was lower than Obama in June 1994. In today’s polarized climate and awful economy, Obama is remarkably resilient. He has a favorable rating over 52 percent, and his unfavorable rating is at a six month low of 39 percent. This is Obama’s political end?

The premise of Noonan’s moronic column is that the federal government, especially the president, should be capable of ending an oil-pipe rupture owned and operated by private companies, using technology that only deep-sea oil companies deploy or understand. And if such a technical issue is not resolved by government immediately, it reveals paralyzing presidential weakness and the failure of an entire branch of political philosophy. Again: seriously? It’s Obama’s fault that under Bush and Cheney, government regulation of oil exploration was so poor and corrupt, corner cutting appears to have been routine? And this, Peggy, is what governments do, even when run by crazy-ass liberals. Governments do not dig for oil; they merely regulate those who dig for oil. That the government failed to do so under the previous administration does not seem to me to be proof that this administration has failed.

For Noonan, the American public is concerned only with spending, illegal immigration and the federal government’s inability to stop an oil leak. For Noonan, the steepest downturn since the 1930s never happened. For Noonan, the flaws of the healthcare system – like, er, millions have none – do not exist. For Noonan, the massive debt – almost all of which Obama either inherited or built in the emergency attempt to stabilize a global economy heading into an abyss – is evidence that government does not work and that Obama is incompetent. For Noonan, actual difficult practical tasks most adults understand are complex to grapple with – how to prevent a Second Great Depression, how to police thousands of miles of border, how to stop an oil leak deep in the ocean floor – are easy. Just do it. Or be labeled incompetent and doomed.

This is utterly unrelated to the reality I have witnessed these past two years, or the slow catastrophe of misgovernment that really did unfold in the last ten. Maybe that says as much about my cocoon as Noonan’s. But I doubt it. What I have also learned these past few years is that the right seeks merely a narrative to lead themselves out of the hole they dug for all of us. Reality be damned. The job of the rest of us is to insist that reality matters and that these fools be exposed.

So there.

Bonus round: Steve M does a really nice take-down on Ms. Noonan as well.