Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

04 April 2010

Fork ‘em, Mr. President!


Watching the President defeat his political rivals is getting to be fun. The pattern is now clear. First, the media declare his goals nigh to impossible. Then his rivals refuse to take him seriously. How can a “black” man, they impudently imply, do “impossible” things? Next, he cruises along, seemingly effortlessly. He stays polite, compromising, reasonable and low-key to a fault.

No-drama Obama projects an attractive, relaxed, honest persona with a good sense of humor. The media accuse him of not caring, not being “tough” enough, or both. Liberal and progressive commentators pile on with unsolicited advice: stand tall, act like a man, shout a little. They sound like would-be parents chiding “stand up straight!”

Late in the game, the President’s rivals begin to doubt themselves. They sense that their strategy of ridicule, obstructionism and neglect is not working. At a loss, they panic and take the lowest possible road. They insult him, his programs, his Harvard-Law-School reasoning, and voters’ intelligence all at once.

When the crunch comes, the President wins, leaving his clueless rivals scratching their heads and wondering why. Few of them suspect the real reasons: he is very, very smart, and few voters are dumb enough to confuse ridicule, lies, innuendo and obstructionism with honest policy. The President grins like the Cheshire Cat, takes his victory in stride, shows his nobility by refusing to gloat, and turns to his next “impossible” goal.

It happened first with Hillary. She couldn’t believe that a virtual political unknown could challenge the mighty Clinton dynasty. When the tide began to turn against her, she turned to not-so-crypto racism, destroying her reputation to no avail.

Next came John McCain. Obama outclassed him in every respect save heroism in a war that occurred when Obama was a child. Perhaps sensing that fact, McCain relegated his campaign to jackal consultants. He abandoned any attempt at responsive policy, promising to keep us on the path to global economic destruction and to send more troops everywhere, just to show how tough we are. As the polls showed him slipping behind, he let his jackals ride what remained of his reputation down into the sewer, shouting racist insults and rebel yells all the way. He forgot that the South―while it may hold one key to the Senate―has failed to lead in anything both positive and important since our Founding.

After the election, the Republican party’s real leaders vanished. Mitt Romney―the natural candidate of business―dropped underground. So did Mike Huckabee, the evangelicals’ darling. Who filled the vacuum? John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. They continued the jackals’ politics of ridicule, lies and obstructionism, refusing to take the President, their rivals in Congress, or the nation’s troubles seriously.

These new “leaders” did manage to take one thing seriously: their own propaganda. They endorsed a ginned-up American brown-shirt movement incongruously labeled “Tea Party.” Then they imagined that Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts signaled a dramatic national lurch to the right.

They failed to account for three things. First, Scott Brown’s rival was a particularly lackluster candidate. Like Hillary, she thought herself entitled to the office and campaigned accordingly, not taking her rival seriously. Second, Massachusetts already had a decent health-insurance system, introduced by that selfsame Romney-in-hiding. It didn’t want to pay again for others’ health care.

Finally, Americans already have experience with brown shirts. It was called the Second World War. There are still enough people alive who remember Hitler’s brown shirts, have taught that lesson to their children and grandchildren, and don’t want anything of the kind in America, even if it adopts a cutesy but misleading title from our nation’s Founding. They know the difference between the real Boston Tea Party and an invitation to Kristallnacht.

So it went with health care. As with the primaries and the general election―Barnum-and-Bailey politics (“There’s one [a sucker] born every minute!”) failed, though not by much. The people’s representatives voted for a minor adjustment to our private health-care system that will curb its worst abuses and get another 10% insured. They dimly perceived that voters want leaders who take serious issues seriously. Maybe Congress’ 17% approval rating got their attention.

And so it goes still. Progressive bloggers now decry Obama’s willingngess to open part of our shoreline to oil-and-gas drilling. How, they scream, could the President give away his bargaining chips even before securing agreement to a carbon tax or cap and trade? The media, too, don’t get it.

But the President is crazy like a fox. He knows that there never was and never will be any bargaining. Led by Boehner and McConnell, the lemmings have already jumped off the cliff. They never intended to bargain or compromise. They never wanted to give the President a “win,” even if it would serve the people.

Now gravity has taken over. The lemmings’ fall won’t stop until they hit rock bottom and smarter people pick up the Republican party’s pieces. Romney the Jerk (1, 2, and 3 [Point 3]) is quietly licking his lips.

Anyway, the President has them in what chess players and debaters call a “fork.” Either way they go, the President and we the people win. If they change their self-defeating and nation-defeating tactics and make genuine compromise, the President will get credit for being the extraordinary leader that he is. If (as seems more likely) they continue their obstructionism, the public will tire of their lies and nay-saying. It won’t take six more months for the American public to see that the spoiled brats our erstwhile ruling class has become would rather the nation tank than help anyone else govern it.

With energy, the “fork” is even stronger. Oil-and-gas exploration ordinarily takes a year or two. But Big Fossil is so bloated with cash it will probably have exploration rigs in the field the day after leases are signed. If a big strike comes, the President can take credit for it. If not, he gets credit for compromising while his rivals did nothing to solve our forty-year-old energy crisis.

It gets even better in Florida. That’s a big, Southern swing state, with a large population of Hispanics and African-Americans. Its demographics make it ripe for plucking in a “swing-the-solid-South” strategy. So Florida’s coast is a big part of the plan for drilling. If a big strike comes offshore, Florida’s independent voters will give the President some credit. If not, the rich folk who live along the shoreline will wonder why the Republicans pushed so hard for a policy that ruined their peace, quiet, sailing and pristine views for nothing. Either way, Obama and we win. That’s a fork.

What about the lies and brown shirts that putatively elected Scott Brown? Obama and his party have over six months to show them for what they are. Come November, voters will know that the main thrust of health-insurance reform was to restrain private health insurers’ cruelest practices and increase the number of people with access to health care from 85% to 95%. After their recent antics, the public will recognize Tea Partiers as a rabble of thugs and seniles, carefully incited by Rovian political “operatives,” not a broad grass-roots movement. And come November, the Republicans will have not one positive economic contribution to show since the passage of Dubya’s prescription-drugs-for-Medicare plan, which Obama’s health bills reform. Who would prefer to run on this record over the one the President and Democrats will have?

What’s most fun is watching so many people underestimate the President so often and seem so surprised when they fail. The list is long: Hillary, McCain, Boehner, McConnell, Netanyahu, and now Karzai. All thought the President a wimpy professor who, despite a racial handicap, somehow managed to rise from nothing and win the longest, toughest political campaign in human history by sheer luck. They can’t seem to see how he makes his own “luck.”

Stupid people have trouble recognizing those smarter than themselves. Smart ones don’t have that problem. Among them are China’s Wen and Hu, Russia’s Putin, and Germany’s Merkel. They take Obama seriously and cooperate when they can.

But the know-nothing, do-nothing, take-nothing-seriously “leaders” in our own country are different. It will be great fun to watch their “surprise”―feigned or real―when conventional wisdom fails and the President’s party holds its own or gains in November. The trend of midterm losses is hardly a rule; it’s only a statistical likelihood. Watch Florida, Georgia, and Virginia.

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