Wednesday, March 31, 2010

obama derangement syndrome

A lot of the commentary on the health care bill has suggested that Republicans suffered from being too conservative and need to compromise more in the future. A second line of comments suggests Republicans have been too angry or hostile and need to be more positive. I think that the first line of comments is mistaken, but the second has something to it.

The moderates vs. conservatives trope sounds appealing but doesn't stand up to analysis. McCain ran an essentially moderate campaign (notwithstanding Palin) and got killed. Since the GOP has followed a more conservative line, its polls are up and it has generally been on the offensive ideologically speaking. The health care defeat--a narrow win for the Democrats in a house where they have an overhelming majority--doesn't really change this.

But being conservative does not have to mean being strident or angry. Much of the response to the health care bill, including cries of socialism from the Tea Party types and solemn threats to repeal the bill before it takes effect, have unfortunately been of this variety. There's much to dislike about the bill: and I still think that a measure with dubious political support, potentially awful revenue consequences, and at least some constitutional problems--not to mention a four-year delay in several key provisions--is eminently subject to change. But calling it the end of life as we know it is unconvincing, and allows Obama and the Democrats to claim the high ground on an issue where they don't deserve it. Anger always sells poorly, especially amoung younger and female voters that the GOP needs to win back, or prevent losing further.

The Middle East issue has a similar dynamic. It's pretty clear now that Obama is not reliably pro-Israel, and that the Israelis will have to take action themselves (as I still think they will) to prevent and Iranian nuclear bomb. Principled opposition is both correct and inevitable. But there is little point in personalizing such opposition: suggestions that Obama is an antisemite, which he plainly isn't, or complaints about the White House Passover Seder contribute little to the debate. The reality is that American (including some Jewish) opinion on Israel is evolving, for reasons including domestic politics, the Iraqi and Afghan wars, and (not least) the presence of an unusually right-wing Israeli Government; that doesn't mean Obama shouldn't be challenged, but it's a mistake to think that changing Presidents would correct all of these problems, and a pressing need to think in longer terms.

It was fashionable a few years ago to speak of "Bush Derangement Syndrome": a though pattern in which otherwise rational people went bonkers at any mention of the 43rd president. I wonder if we're not seeing its reflection now. There's plenty to dislike Obama about, but he's going to be President for at least two, and maybe six, more years; yelling and screaming won't change that a whole lot. Besides look where the Bush Syndrome got us. To exactly the place, more or less, that the new angry people complain about.


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