Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is Obama being bipartisan enough?

Keith Hennessey has a post comparing the domestic legislation of Bush 43 and Obama, and maintains that the former had more bipartisan success. It's an interesting and educational post, though I think some of his analysis badly misses the mark. It's amazing to me how an informed person could write this:
On health care [Obama] undercut Senate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus, whose bipartisan “Gang of Six” had the best chance to negotiate the core of a bipartisan compromise. [...] No Senate Republican can now have confidence that any Democratic committee chairman has the authority to negotiate a binding deal.
I'm pretty sure the reverse of this is true, but it misses the point regardless. I hope Hennessey wrote this because he wasn't paying attention when Grassley and Enzi were bashing the bill they were helping to write while they were writing it, and now one of them brags about having delayed the process and making it more difficult. The other Republican on the committee, Olympia Snowe, voted for the Finance Committee bill before voting against the mostly identical final Senate bill, on the grounds that the nearly yearlong process was moving too fast for her. Among the three Republicans most interested in health care reform, there are numerous signs of bad faith and deception. That has to be factored in.

Hennessey also misses the biggest reason why Republicans are doing what they can to obstruct Obama's plan: the Tea Party movement. I am not quite sure what proportion of the Tea Parties are sincere, angry people (compared to the portion that are obviously cranks), but it's pretty clear that a significant chunk of the GOP hates the elite representation of their party (albeit at a very superficial level), and has both the motivation and means to punish Republicans that deviate from their interpretation of conservatism. There are a number of Republicans who are moderate and/or interested in governing but who will not do so for fear of being primaried or subjected to a third-party challenge, which is a very real possibility, as the Tea Parties have already collected a few scalps (Scozzafava, Crist) and have very rapidly become the central force in the GOP, with no real equivalent on the left as yet. I tend to think that they'll flame out pretty quickly once the economy starts improving, but if one wants to understand the increase in polarization in this Congress, this is a good place to start.

Ultimately, I think the Tea Parties are a waste. Forget the lack of a single, coherent message for a moment. Right now, there are a number of problems with the right: an aggressive, hypernationalistic foreign policy mindset; a self-defeating economic policy; a cynical elite that doesn't keep its promises and manipulates its followers, just to name a few. The Tea Party people could have generated leaders to make a specific and thorough critique of the conservative movement and to try to change it. Instead, they have mostly been captured by the elites that know them so well, and been made to serve mostly as examples of GOP media narratives. The GOP does not believe in cutting spending or shrinking government, and if they regain power they will certainly not do these things. But they will almost certainly blame this on the Democrats and get their voters to the polls by frightening them with stories about the American flag being burned or what have you. The Tea Parties could use leaders that see the world clearly, figure out what needs to be done and articulate their message well, like William F. Buckley. Instead they have Sarah Palin and Marco Rubio. The extent of their message is anger, and while that plays now it will not last forever.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.