Wednesday, January 26, 2011

the king's speech

From today's NY Times and Phila Inquirer you would think Barack Obama had reinvented himself as the "competitiveness" President, the Republicans were angry and divided, and the election was all but forgotten. Nice try, no cigar.

The speech was part of the emerging Democratic strategy for negating the elections and hoping to continue on essentially the same path with minor modifications. The strategy has two parts: (i) cast the Republicans as extremists who are unfit to govern despite their victory, and (ii) recast large-scale deficit spending as an "investment" in the future that only naysayers would oppose. Neither of these has much substance--extremism is a matter of perception and (as tax lawyers know well) almost any expenditure can be recast as an investment--but it has a nice sound to it and offers some hope for recasting the terms, if not the substance, of the debate.

Will it work? In the short term it might: people seem to recoil from dominance by either party (that's probably why Obama's numbers are up) and the demise of Pelosi et al. gives the President more room for maneuver. But in the long run it seems less promising.

Obama's basic problem is not so much the election as that his entire program runs counter to what other Governments (including both states and foreign countries) are doing and what most Americans seem to want. As Rep. Paul Ryan noted in the Republican response, Obama has taken a Government plagued by entitlement-created deficits and created . . . a new entitlement and larger deficits. This simply doesn't make sense to most people, and it's doubtful even the most clever repackaging can change that. He could still get reelected, and even be popular, as a counterweight in a conservative age (see Dwight Eisenhower, Bill Clinton, et al.) But the basic ideological direction of his Administration has been discredited, and that's a hard thing for any speech, however well delivered, to correct for.

Addendum: Time Magazine added to the Obama-hype this week by pairing him on the cover with Ronald Reagan, with whom it said he shared many things, like that they both lived in LA for a couple of years (I'm not making this up). Maybe next week they'll have an article comparing Mubarak with Nasser or Sadat. At least he met them.


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