Sunday, May 27, 2012

Self-lacerating Sunday

Well, it's the middle of Memorial Day weekend, and here I am sucking in campaign news -- or rather, campaign speculation -- that leaves me beating myself for spite. So fool that I am, I'll look into my heart and write for a moment -- that is, vent, or lament, without troubling too much to develop the thoughts, or spleen. A couple of points:

1) Jonathan Chait, responding to Romney's flash of his inner Keynesian in an interview with Mark Halperin, rolls up various commentary to argue that we're likely to get more short-term stimulus if Romney wins than if Obama does:
Meanwhile, Romney has no stimulus plan. But he may well propose one if he wins, and it would pass, because plenty of Republicans would flip back to being Keynesians like they were under President Bush. What’s more, Democrats wouldn’t stop it, because Democrats don’t have any history of opportunistically abandoning Keynesian economics when the other party’s neck is on the economic line. So, yes, a President Romney would be more likely to sign strong stimulative legislation than Obama — not because he believes in it more strongly, but because, as David Frum says, we’re all Keynesians during Republican administrations.
This perverse and compelling logic makes me deeply weary.  It's always easy to lament, "Republicans, crazy; Democrats, stupid," as Rick Perlstein boils down our political predicament -- or, just as often, "Republicans, crazy; Democrats, cowards."  But I often feel that the Democrats' task is just impossible.  How can you govern when one side reflexively demonizes measures that were always a matter of bipartisan consensus? Would we want Democrats to block stimulus proposed by a Romney administration, sabotaging the economy as the Republicans have done since they got control of the House, and to a lesser extent via filibuster since Obama took office?  Democrats are in any case incapable of it -- and should Republicans win they White House and both chambers of Congress, they will in any case pass whatever they will on the economic front via reconciliation -- and/or by killing the filibuster faster than you can say 'tax cut.'  In which case they will reap the benefits of the economic recovery that must eventually come whatever the government does, even as they're empowered to further cut taxes and eviscerate the federal government. 

2) For a full year now, liberal bloggers have driven themselves insane chronicling and countering Romney's daily lying about Obama's record (not to say his own). You know the drill: Obama went on an apology tour, he made the economy worse, he instituted government-controlled healthcare, he believes in equality of outcomes rather than equality of opportunity, his economic policies disproportionately hurt women, he ignited a prairie fire of debt.  For debunks, see Steve Benen's weekly tally of Mitt's Mendacity, now 19 volumes long; Paul Krugman, The Post-Truth Campaign; or xpostfactoid, "He made it worse"...

On Thursday in Iowa, Obama took on Mitt's mendacity directly, dismissing the alleged "prairie fire of debt" as a "cowpie of distortion":
"I know Gov. Romney came to Des Moines last week. Warned about a prairie fire of debt. That's what he said, prairie fire. But he left out some facts. His speech was like a cowpie of distortion. I don't know whose record he twisted the most, mine or his.
"Now listen, it is true the debt and deficit are serious problems and the depth of the recession added to the debt. A lot more folks were looking for unemployment insurance. A lot fewer folks were paying taxes because they weren't making money. So that added to the debt. Our efforts to prevent it from becoming a Depression, helping the auto industry, making sure that not as many teachers were laid off, all those things added to the debt.

"But what my opponent didn't tell you is that federal spending since I took office, has risen at the slowest pace of any president in almost 60 years. By the way, that generally happens. What happens is the Republicans run up the tab and then, we're sitting there, and they've left the restaurant, then they point and say 'Why'd you order all those steaks and martinis? ' "
To which I would imagine most Obama supporters would respond:  fantastic, way to call him out, now could you please get a bit more specific about Romney's proposed $5 trillion in new tax cuts and concomitant gutting of virtually every domestic federal government function?

And most probably do.  But somehow someone, somewhere, is casting this attack as evidence of a deep-seated Obama "mean streak":
But there was something darker and sharper lurking just below the surface, in Obama’s facial expressions, body language, and mocking tone of voice: Not to put too fine a point on it, but the president has a mean streak.     ..

Let’s return to the “prairie fire” moment, around 28 minutes into the videotape of Obama’s speech. The president’s tone drips with sarcasm, especially when he shouts the phrase “prairie fire!,” raising his left arm in mock-alarm, and punctuates the gesture with a suppressed giggle.      
This is backed with psychobabble from the author of Obama on the Couch about the President's capacity for  "narcissistic fighting."  Which I would not waste even free blog space on were it not for Sullivan's response:
I worry that the president risks losing some of his favorability and likability with the sneering. He has the better arguments. He should simply make them.
To this, in a season (or seizure) of anxiety, I can append my own fretting.  As an economy frays and an opponent attacks, any president can look desperate (though I can't see meanness as the medium of Obama's undoing).  I recall Bush Sr., hoarse and forlorn late in the 92 campaign, imploring voters to believe that Clinton was "coming after your wallet."  The Democratic equivalent is "destroy Medicare, shred the safety net, shower largesse on the wealthy." Never mind that it's all manifestly true. After three years of anemic growth, Americans are primed to believe that Romney is better equipped to manage the economy.  And that is the true and source of my Memorial weekend dyspepsia.

That, and several hundred million dollars of Super Pac money.

1 comment:

  1. "How can you govern when one side reflexively demonizes measures that were always a matter of bipartisan consensus?"

    By severely curtailing minority rule. The train's leaving the station. Let's be the ones in the locomotive for once, not the caboose.