Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

David Brooks writes, in the New York Times, about "the Obama slide."

If it isn't obvious what the "Obama slide" is, Brooks is writing about the president's sharp decline in public opinion polls.

My friends often remind me that polls are not infallible. I agree with that. In fact, I have often pointed out that polls are nothing more than snapshots of public opinion at a particular moment, but the science of polling has improved greatly over the decades, and I have found some (but certainly not all) of the polls to be valid.

Current polls offer lessons that Obama and his supporters would be wise to heed. The president's "slide" need not be permanent, but a certain amount of flexibility is required.

Brooks' column is worth reading in its entirety. It provides plenty of insight, which may be helpful for bewildered Obama supporters who can't understand why "The One" has fallen from favor so quickly with so many.

Take heart. Brooks feels your pain. "All presidents fall from their honeymoon highs," Brooks writes, "but in the history of polling, no newly elected American president has fallen this far this fast."

And, as Brooks goes on to say, "Anxiety is now pervasive." Much of that can be laid at the doorstep of Obama's political adversaries, who have been guilty of using all kinds of scare tactics against not only the health care reform plan but other Obama initiatives as well.

But there is no reason for those on the left to feel smug or superior. They were not above resorting to emotional appeals to further their own causes when the right wing was in charge.

That's probably a significant part of the reason why, as Brooks observes, "[o]ver the first months of this year, the number of people who called themselves either Democrats or Republicans declined, while the number who called themselves independents surged ahead."

Brooks encounters resistance from one of the left wing's most virulent defenders, the Daily Kos, which calls Brooks' column "especially vile and dishonest," even though, as far as I can tell, Brooks is merely offering constructive criticism that can help Obama restore some of the luster his presidency has lost in recent months. The Daily Kos may be reluctant to admit it now, but last spring, Brooks supported Obama so much that Jennifer Rubin was prompted to lament in Commentary that "[Obama] lost David Brooks" over the budget. I took issue with the idea that Obama "lost" Brooks merely because he asked questions from a centrist's perspective.

The Daily Kos' rant also seems to me to be an indicator why TIME labeled it one of the "most overrated blogs." I would add to that that the Daily Kos has an over–inflated opinion of itself.

There doesn't seem to be any room in the political debate for centrists anymore. It seems to me that both sides have adopted the Bush doctrine of "you're either with us or against us." Need more details? Feel compelled to ask questions? Good luck with that. Let me know how it works out for you.

I must say, though, that the campaign against the health care reform plan has been particularly vitriolic — with talk of "death panels" and armed opponents going to rallies while other opponents, instead of carrying guns, have carried signs equating Obama to Hitler.

That is clearly an emotional appeal. I doubt that anyone who has spent any time studying the Nazis' rise to power can make make a convincing, fact–based case that Obama and the Nazi fascists have anything in common.

I certainly understand the suspicion that many have about centralized government. It is a concern that goes back to the earliest days of the republic, and fear of it intensified with the passage of the stimulus package. Right wingers recognized that fear and, realizing they could capitalize on it, fanned the flames with their scare tactics on health care.

But will it be any better if Republicans make big gains in Congress next year? Will it be better if 2010 turns out to be like 1994, with Republicans taking control of Congress?

After the 1994 elections, Bill Clinton moved more to the middle, which helped him win re–election but didn't necessarily help his party in the 1996 congressional campaigns.

Could Obama, who appears to be more committed to left–wing causes, as well as less pragmatic, than Clinton, move far enough to the middle to be re–elected if Democrats lose a lot of ground in the Congress in 2010? Even if Democrats retain a majority in Congress, will it be better if 2012 brings a Republican capture of the White House?

That's a tough one for me. In my lifetime, it seems that things have worked better for the country when government was divided, when one party held the White House and the other party controlled Congress. If a Republican is elected president in 2012, my guess is that, if Democratic lawmakers still hold the majority in Congress, they will be just as obstructionist as Republican lawmakers have been in the first seven months of this year.

I can remember when lawmakers in this country were civil to each other, in spite of opposing views. I'm afraid we may have laid to rest the last of the cordial lawmakers Saturday when Ted Kennedy was buried. Say what you will about Kennedy's politics, but when they held his funeral mass in Boston, TV cameras picked up the likes of John McCain and Phil Gramm in the audience. Kennedy, as his oldest son said, was a pragmatist. He knew how to work with folks with whom he disagreed.

Now the wild things have been turned loose.

At a time when legislators on both sides of the aisle need to be reaching out to each other and pulling together, it's turned into a vicious game of tug–o–war instead.

And, if the polls are correct, many Americans who voted for Obama in the hope that he would bring real change to Washington are now saying — as the dying Mercutio said to the feuding Capulets and Montagues — "a plague on both your houses."

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