Sunday, November 2, 2008

A dose of Sunday evening pessimism

The view from under a bus:

Take a look back at the two presidential victories engineered by "the Architect." In 2000, Bush lost the popular vote after leading in the polls for months, ultimately winning the electoral vote because of a contested 537-vote margin in Florida. In 2004, he won reelection with 51.3 percent of the popular vote — the lowest percent of any victorious Republican incumbent in American history. The narrow margins of these victories are signs of strategic weakness, not strength.

Rove is a smart man and a student of history. He knows that a Republican president in wartime should be able to win reelection almost without campaigning. Richard Nixon won 49 states in a similar circumstance, and he did not have Bush's engaging personality, a massive domestic attack that briefly united the nation or a stiff patrician opposition candidate like John Kerry.

Or reach for a more immediate parallel: Bill Clinton closed out his administration with a job approval rating in the mid-60s, even after being impeached — nearly three times as high as President Bush's recent record low of 22 percent. That was not a measure of Americans' approval for Clinton's personal behavior, but it was a clear endorsement of his centrist policies.

They aren't being very subtle, are they? They're even willing to throw their beloved oracle M.C. Karl under the bus in the name of centrism and bipartisanship. These very same people were heralding Rove as a genius who was thisclose to establishing a "permanent Republican majority" in 2004; now they are all but saying he blew that election, and should have won big -- which is true. It's just that saying it now doesn't mean much. The time to have pointed this out was back then, when Rove was actually doing all this polarizing. Back then, all we heard was how Democrats needed to be "bipartisan."

At any rate, I actually agree with some of this -- Obama will have to govern more or less from the center during his first term. He isn't going to have 60 Dems in the Senate, and even if he did, you've got Lieberman and Landrieu and Nelson et al to Quisling things up. And there are serious problems out there he has to address now, problems that don't easily fit into a partisan agenda. But the media people demanding Centrism Now creates a playing field where one side is forced to start at the center and the other side is allowed to start at the far right. You don't end up with true centrism that way -- instead, you end up with a situation where a 3% raise in the marginal tax rate on people earning >250k/year is "socialism." Obama brought some of this on himself with his absurdly cautious platform, but the real problem is the endless stream of articles and talking head bloviations we are going to see like the one above, and the mindset behind them.

Because of this I don't have high hopes for an Obama administration in the policy arena -- certainly not the first term, when he's going to try to be as inoffensive as possible. Maybe after he's "rescued" the economy and safely won re-election in 2012, he'll take a gamble and go for something big like universal healthcare, but not before then. In the meantime, he's going to be what W. said he would be during the 2000 campaign: Bill Clinton without the blowjobs. For the Villagers, that will be just fine, just as it was in 2000. That nothing substantive will have been achieved, well, life for them is pretty good. They have their health insurance. They have their six figure incomes. As long as problems are for other people, there are no problems.