In the Obama inner circle, the sweeping rhetoric, outlandish promises, and reliance on a romanticized American people is beginning to give way to the political knee-capping of old
By Robert Wallace
Ever since Gordon Brown / Barack Obama gift-exchange fiasco, the Obama White House has been working hard to earn a reputation for incompetence. There is no shortage of theories to explain how an apparently elite campaign has turned into a bumbling troop of amateurs after securing the White House.
One theory is that Obama just hasn’t been able to get his elite team members into place. As the New York Times recently reported, less than one-half of his top appointees are actually in place. The explanation seems plausible until you consider the that Obama–disdainful of Constitutional limits on the executive branch now that he’s in the White House–prefers to nominate czars directly rather than deal with legislators in his own party.
Then there’s the suggestion that Obama’s campaign team specializes in campaigning, and that they have not adapted well to executive responsibilities. This is almost certainly a genuine problem, especially given Obama’s total lack of first-hand executive experience at any level, significant or otherwise. I recall Sarah Palin’s line from the Republican National Convention: “I guess a small-town mayor is kind of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.” The same would apply, it seems, to campaign officials.
Lastly, there is the hypothesis that Obama never had an elite campaign team to begin with. He had a complicit media that prostituted their credibility for a spot on the Making History Express. He also had an American people desperate for some happy fairy tale to invest in: a chance for racial redemption, change from the moral complexities and controversies of the War on Terror, and a shot at pretending 9/11 never happened. Now that many of Obama’s most wide-eyed supporters in the media are actually working for his administration and Americans are realizing he can’t deliver on his impossible promises, the protective cocoon around an inherently weak politician is crumbling.
The sense of executive incompetence has been heightened in recent weeks as the cap-and-trade bill barely managed to limp through the House in a watered-down (but still dangerous) form, as the health care debate has spiraled out of control, and as Obama’s approval ratings have continued their slide into oblivion.
All of this can lead to a dangerous mistake: underestimating Team Obama.
Up until now Team Obama has been drinking their own Kool-aid. He swept into power on a wave of public enthusiasm and optimism. The crowds were huge and the adulation palpable. His campaign was a long orgy of sycophantic pandering to the anointed one, and it went to his head. Consider his nomination victory speech:
I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment–this was the time–when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals.
If that’s not Utopian Koolaid, then I don’t know what is. Obama has been ruling from the White House as if the oceans really were going to move just because he is president. That’s not what got Obama where he is today. His initial rise was due to Chicago-style thug politics, patronage, and corruption. Not to mention cute tricks like campaigning for voter rights and then using legal technicalities to make sure those voters had only one choice to vote for: him. Brute political force is Obama’s native political language.
Now, however, Obama has his back against the wall. Rebranding Obamacare as Kennedycare doesn’t distance it from his credibility as a national leader. Given the litany of failures thus far, it’s not clear that he will be able to salvage anything that looks remotely like success from what will almost certainly be his only term in office if the health care initiative goes down in flames.
Now that’s what I call a wake-up call.
The painful reality Obama is waking up to is this: that stuff about commanding the seas to fall only works aesthetically in a speech. It’s not real. He and his advisers are on the verge–if they haven’t already–of completely abandoning their ridiculous Captain Planet mentality and getting back to the business of political knee-capping.
And that means that the battle for health care is about to get dirty. I know you probably thought it was dirty before, but trust me — you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.
Exhibit A: Meet the Department for Official Propaganda: The NEA
Why invent a new government agency to spread official propaganda when you’ve got one lying around you can already co-op? Patrick Courrielche had no sooner finished writing an article for for Reason magazine sounding the alarm over conformity in the artistic community when he was invited to join in on a conference call with the National Endowment for the Arts. Here’s how he summarized the content of the call:
Backed by the full weight of President Barack Obama’s call to service and the institutional weight of the NEA, the conference call was billed as an opportunity for those in the art community to inspire service in four key categories, and at the top of the list were “health care” and “energy and environment.” The service was to be attached to the President’s United We Serve campaign, a nationwide federal initiative to make service a way of life for all Americans.
It sounded, how should I phrase it…unusual, that the NEA would invite the art community to a meeting to discuss issues currently under vehement national debate. I decided to call in, and what I heard concerned me. [...]
We were encouraged to bring the same sense of enthusiasm to these “focus areas” as we had brought to Obama’s presidential campaign, and we were encouraged to create art and art initiatives that brought awareness to these issues. Throughout the conversation, we were reminded of our ability as artists and art professionals to “shape the lives” of those around us. The now famous Obama “Hope” poster, created by artist Shepard Fairey and promoted by many of those on the phone call, and will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” song and music video were presented as shining examples of our group’s clear role in the election.
There’s nothing wrong with a bunch of artists deciding to dedicate their own time and talents to their favored candidate or initiatives, but there’s something very wrong with trying to convert the NEA into the Department of Propaganda. (Incidentally, this is another good reason why the NEA shouldn’t exist at all.) If there’s one thing that political life in the Daley Machine teaches you, it’s how to use power to stay in power.
Expect to see this kind of co-opting of government agencies wherever Obama can get away with it. He’s got the levers of power now, and he’s going to pull them all. Which, I might add, is another reason that big government is a Bad Thing. You create a monster to give the people what they want, and then some egomaniac realizes that he’s got this giant monster lying around and why not use it as his personal political army?
Exhibit B: Polling “Research”
The politicization of the scientific community has been going on for some time, with issues like embryonic stem cell research and global warming turned into little more than political footballs for progressive politicians. Why take a break now?
I’ve got no reason to believe that this particular initiative came from Team Obama, but it doesn’t really matter one way or the other. It’s exactly the kind of thing his allies will continue to try to do with or without central coordination.
The Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research at Indiana University–taking a page straight out of the White House playbook–recently released the results of a polling survey which found that the Majority Of Americans Believe ‘Myths’ About Health Care Reform. The problem isn’t with the results of the survey. It’s with the questions. The researchers decided to take Obama’s word for what was and was not a “myth” and then lend the credibility of their institution to his political campaign by dressing up a survey that really serves no point other than to validate White House talking points.
Eugene Volokh has tackled the survey head-on at his blog The Volokh Conspiracy. In his first post he described the extent to which the researchers had turned their backs on the most fundamental axioms of polling research:
If you look at the survey, you see that most of the supposed knowledge questions do not turn completely on known facts, which can have true or false answers. The myth questions are mostly subjective — expectations or predictions about the future — which by nature have no right or wrong answers. This distinction is axiomatic in the field of survey research.
In a follow up post, he listed several of the myth-questions along with his comments on those questions. Here’s a sample:
3. Health care services such as treatments, physicians, and care will be rationed.
COMMENT: Given that the White House admits that rationing is already happening by private insurance carriers, I don’t understand why they think that rationing in some form is unlikely under their proposed reforms. I suspect, however, that the government will find it difficult to make many of the tough decisions, so that most “rationing” will occur not by the government denying care but by doctors being unable or unwilling to treat many of the patients covered under government or private insurance plans. Time will tell.
4. Reforms will cover more Americans by making cuts to Medicare.
COMMENT: Given President Obama’s own statements, I don’t see how any honest researcher can call this a “myth.” In his New Hampshire town hall, Obama said that he will accomplish health care reform “without adding to our deficit over the next decade, largely by cutting out the waste and insurance company giveaways in Medicare that aren’t making any of our seniors healthier.” So Obama is promising to make large cuts in Medicare funding without compromising the health of seniors. I have my doubts whether Medicare funding will be cut substantially by anything other than longer waits for Medicare patients who want treatment under Obama’s health care reform. Time will tell.
5. Tort reform, which would limit the amount of money awarded to injured patients in malpractice cases, will decrease health care costs.
COMMENT: Given the conflicting scholarly literature on this, I don’t see how any honest researcher could call this a “myth.” For example, Ronen Avraham and Max Schanzenbach reviewed 7 tort reforms and concluded that some had no effect while others “are effective in reducing healthcare costs. The magnitude of the effects on price sensitive groups suggests that some tort reforms can reduce health care costs by as much as two percent.”
Volokh has nearly 20 question/comment pairs in that post, and it’s obvious that while a couple of the questions are really about myths, most of them are actually attempts to dismiss real dangers of the Obama health care reform initiative. But the issue isn’t really “did they guess right about what will happen with health care reform in the future?” it’s that despite the fact that there are no solid answers (how can there be, when we don’t even have a specific bill to analyze?), they nevertheless came down on the side of the White House. There’s a word for this: prostitution. It makes the mainstream media look chaste by comparison.
I am reminded of something that Thomas Paine wrote in Age of Reason:
When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional beliefs to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime.
These professional researchers didn’t just accidentally forget undergraduate-level principles of polling research, and so I must conclude that they have subscribed their professional beliefs to things they do not believe, and that thus they are preparing themselves for the commission of every other crime.
This is what we have to look forward to in the coming debate. Every dirty trick you can think of is going to be pulled and quite a few you can’t think of. Every dishonest and corrupt advantage will be taken. This is politics, Chicago-style. Thankfully the truly radical nature of the agenda and the hubris of the leftist elite mean they’ve got a very steep hill to climb. We don’t need to ponder the morality of stooping to their methods or whether or not ends justify means. Victory over dishonesty isn’t reached through more deceit, it’s accomplished by exposing lies and liars to the truth.
As long as Americans stay angry enough to be responsibly involved in our politics we’re going to win this one.
But that’s not going to make it any less ugly.
Robert Wallace is classical liberal and a devout Mormon. He is currently studying economics in graduate school. He and his wife work as business analysis consultants, and they live as undercover conservatives with their two small children in a liberal bastion of a college town. He has been writing for America’s Right since December 2008.