Thursday, April 19, 2012

It's the Voters, Stupid (or, It's the Stupid Voters)

I think Michael Tomasky's column this morning at The Daily Beast has it about right. Those who are pushing the President to offer a comprehensive tax-reform plan that would lead to good-faith negotiations with the Republicans are misguided. Obama already made the naive mistake of believing he could work together with the opposition party during the first half of his first term. But they were never going to let him "transcend" politics-as-usual, as he promised to do during the election campaign. He is not likely to repeat his mistake in this campaign.  

I particularly liked the Barney Frank quote Tomasky used to illustrate the problem:
People ask me, ‘Why don’t you guys get together?’ And I say, ‘Exactly how much would you expect me to cooperate with Michele Bachmann?’ And they say, ‘Are you saying they’re all Michele Bachmann?’ And my answer is, ‘No, they’re not all Michele Bachmann. Half of them are Michele Bachmann. The other half are afraid of losing a primary to Michele Bachmann.'
What I like about the quote, and about the conclusion of Tomasky's column, is not the gratuitous slap at Michele Bachman but the proper reapportionment of responsibility from apparently intransigent politicians like her and Mitch McConnell to the electorate (motivated by interest groups such as Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform), which have pushed Republican candidates further and further right, treating any compromise with the President, however sensible, as virtual treason (witness the advertisements of Tea Party candidate Richard Murdoch against Senator Richard Lugar accusing him of being "Obama's favorite Republican").

Republican opposition to anything President Obama supports is not rooted in party ideology or Mitch McConnell's commitment, from day one, to make Obama a one-term president. Those are but symptoms of the real problem: an under-educated and increasingly ideological, rather than pragmatic, electorate - the same 72% of the American people who can't name the current Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court (see here), and who believe falsely that Ronald Reagan never compromised on his core principles or raised taxes (see, e.g., here). With an electorate like that, what chance is there of getting sensible policies for entitlement reform (which Republicans would like to see) let alone the kind of tax reform the President prefers?

Tomasky's conclusion seems to me absolutely correct: Republicans will not cooperate or compromise until they lose their fear of Tea Party primary challenges. And that cannot be expected to happen until successful Tea Party challengers start losing general elections. Until then the moderates really don't stand a chance, and a Democratic president - any Democratic president - cannot count on any support from across the aisle. It would be foolish and counterproductive for Obama to pay attention to those who are urging him to renew efforts to work together with an opposition that, based on their mythical version of Ronald Reagan, never compromise on their core principles, let alone meet him halfway.

1 comment:

  1. Of course, the electorate has always been and always will be under-educated from our standpoint (I was also a professor for a while). I think this is mostly a dramatic increase in partisanship*, due to (1) Nixon's southern strategy reaching its logical conclusion and (2) Fox News.

    The Republican party has evolved from using divisive social issues as a tactic to having candidates who are entirely defined by them (the Bachmann's).

    I think it's hard to under-estimate the influence of the Fox News propaganda machine, which works so well because those with a conservative disposition value authority and conformity. There can be no equivalent for those with a disposition toward discussion and dissent.

    * what you called being "increasingly ideological," but I couldn't figure out how to make the word fit: ideologicalness? ideologicality? aargh.

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