Monday, September 19, 2011

Consider the Alternative

Bill Keller in yesterday’s New York Times on how the Republicans and President Obama’s ambivalence have left us with some blank spaces.

I can stand a little ambivalence in our leaders, particularly compared with the blinkered certitude of the previous administration. But in politics there are few greater liabilities than a perceived lack of definition.

Against Obama we have a cast of Republicans who talk about the federal government with a contempt that must have Madison and Hamilton spinning in their coffins. The G.O.P. campaign sounds like a contest for the Barry Goldwater Chair in States’ Rights: neuter the Fed; abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and a few other departments; turn Medicare and Social Security into individual 401(k) programs; dismantle national health care and revoke consumer protections. Rick Perry, who likes to rouse Texans by claiming the right to secede from the union, sometimes sounds as if he has expanded his view to encompass the secession of all 50 states. Even Mitt Romney — at heart a Republican technocrat (and the only candidate I’ve ever seen give a campaign speech with PowerPoint) — talks as if the main role of the president is to grant waivers from any kind of mandate upon the states. Such is the power of our new, centrifugal populism.

Do they really believe this, or are they just playing to the Ron Paul libertarian niche? Do you really want to find out?

So let’s get real. Yes, Obama could do better. But we could do a lot worse.

There’s another element to this, and that’s the suicidal efforts of a lot of voters to elect someone who is clearly working against their own interests for the purposes of “sending a message.” This came up last week in the special election in New York to fill the seat vacated by Anthony Weiner. People who claimed they were life-long Democrats voted for the the Republican right-winger to tell President Obama they weren’t happy with the economy. That’s like someone shooting themselves in the foot to protest the lousy way their health insurance system works.

The mind, it doth boggle.