In July, Harper’s Magazine published an article called “Barack Hoover Obama: The best and the brightest blow it again” that’s probably wise to revisit in light of the recently-announced spending freeze. Kevin Baker wrote:
Hoover’s every decision in fighting the Great Depression mirrored the sentiments of 1920s “business progressivism,” even if he understood intellectually that something more was required. Farsighted as he was compared with almost everyone else in public life, believing as much as he did in activist government, he still could not convince himself to take the next step and accept that the basic economic tenets he had believed in all his life were discredited; that something new was required.[…]
FDR was by no means the rigorous thinker that Hoover was, and many observers then and since have accused him of having no fixed principles whatsoever. And yet it was Roosevelt, the Great Improviser, who was able to patch and borrow and fudge his way to solutions not only to the Depression but also to sustained prosperity and democracy. […]
Much like Herbert Hoover, Barack Obama is a man attempting to realize a stirring new vision of his society without cutting himself free from the dogmas of the past — without accepting the inevitable conflict. Like Hoover, he is bound to fail.
I thought that comparison was unfair then, a mere six months into the Presidency, and I think it’s unfair now, even as more people start to adopt it. For their similarities, let’s not forget that Obama came one absurd special election away from passing the most comprehensive Health Care Reform bill in… what, ever? All in the same time he was negotating the bank and auto bailouts, and two inherited wars, etc. Yes, every President has battles to fight and yes, Obama’s intellectual bent with fairly traditional solutions looks like Hooverism, even from up close. But let’s be fair. There are a lot of balls in the air right now, and this is actually not that big of a practical measure. The Wall Street Journal’s coverage begins by pointing out how small it actually is compared with the waves it’s making politically, calling it “a move meant to quell rising concern over the deficit but whose practical impact will be muted.”
Even among the more thoughtful elements of the left, anger and confusion reign. Rachel Maddow laughed one of Joe Biden’s economic advisors off her show, and Nate Silver called this The White House’s Brain Freeze… while admitting that practically, it wasn’t that big of a deal.
This sh!t has got to stop. If you don’t think this is a good decision, it doesn’t mean it’s the worst decision Barack Obama has ever made. It’s certainly going to give him some cache with independents who remember it come 2012, and to Nate’s suggestion that this gives ammo to Republicans to attack him should he renege on any part of it—do you really think the truth matters to them come election time? The assault is going to be giant, unmistakable, and disingenuous. If Obama can keep this promise, I think that the pundiocracy has lost sight of what it might mean to an average voter than the President is *not* a Democratic stereotype.
But even if you disagree, this is really not all that big of a deal. To suggest otherwise is ignorance, at best. This is the matter of governing when you miss out on Health Care by one vote in a completely absurd situation. Governing isn’t easy, but you can’t always let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This has actual benefits for Obama if he can stick to it. The only thing that bothers me is that he clearly lied to Diane Sawyer when he said that he’d rather be a good one-term President than a mediocre two-termer. This is a long-haul decision with low downside and low upside, but the upside is there. Even if it does affect the economy (with many on the left suggesting deficit spending as the key to end the recession), there’s no way Republicans are going to win independent votes by bragging that Obama lost the economy by following their platform. If anything, this move shows how irresponsible the GOP’s economic plan is, not Obama’s. We call this governing.
There’s ample room to disagree here, but I would like people to keep a level head about this.
UPDATE: Ben has a theory, and it sounds plausible.