Tuesday, August 2, 2011

do you really want what you say you want and are you really getting it

There are quite a few things one could say to Andrew Sullivan for his dogged support of Obama; "of no party or clique" is of little use if your commitment to an individual person replicates the typical failings of party (or clique) loyalty. But the main thing, from my outsider's perspective, is that he seems to think that the deal is satisfying many of his commitments when in fact it does the opposite.

Now, me, my resistance to this deal is that I support Medicare and Social Security, which are absolutely threatened by the bizarre Super Committee contrivance, I support public education, I support healthy transportation infrastructure, I support subsidies for college and graduate school education, I support research and development funding for essential medical and scientific needs, I support a robust safety net for poor people and the elderly, I support the protection of the environment, and I support the enforcement of basic workplace health and safety requirements. I also understand that the United States enjoys a fiat currency, an unprecedented international dependence on that currency and our economic strength, and the printing press, vastly mitigating the danger of budget deficits and making the logic of countercyclical economics even more clear. But I'm crazy like that.

But Sullivan, according to his own posts yesterday and today, supports (to a rather crazy degree) his President appearing "reasonable," reducing the deficit, opposing the Tea Party, and the reelection of Barack Obama. The first is a matter of debate. There is nothing reasonable, in my mind, about supporting bad policy. There's also nothing reasonable about conceding to immensely unreasonable people. (People Andrew has been calling unreasonable for years!) I'll concede, though, that what is reasonable is in the eye of the beholder. The rest of these commitments are all hurt, not helped, by this deal.

This deal will not secure the long term fiscal future of the United States. Only robust growth will finally make the United States government fiscally solvent, and this deal will hurt growth, as averred by not just liberals like Paul Krugman but business journalists at Bloomberg and the Economist and analysts at Merrill Lynch and many many more. The deal doesn't put us in the black; it doesn't come close. Slowing the economy through austerity measures is going to lower tax revenue and make things worse.

This deal hands victory to the Tea Party and emboldens them. It both gives them what they want substantively and it demonstrates that thuggish tactics work. I will repeat: when you reward bad behavior, you ensure that you get more bad behavior. We don't negotiate with terrorists and hostage takers not to show how big our dicks are but because if you give hostage takers what they want then people will never stop taking hostages. What on earth will prevent this kind of behavior again? The President and Congressional Democrats just sent an unmistakeable message to the Tea Party Representatives and their constituents: if you are dangerously intransigent, we will fold.

Making Obama supporters zeal for this deal most inexplicable is the fact that this deal hurts his chances in 2012. There is a vast literature demonstrating that American presidential elections are determined primarily by economics. People vote for incumbent parties when the economy is doing well and against them when the economy is doing poorly. This bill does nothing to help the 14 million unemployed Americans. It does nothing to address the double dip recession we appear to be marching towards. And, again, in the eyes of many very smart people, it actually hurts. If this deal, which will slash thousands of jobs from the federal rolls and do nothing to stimulate the private economy, sends unemployment back to double digits, Obama is a one term president. (And lest anyone try to turn that into some grand narrative about Obama bravely doing the right thing and sacrificing his political future for the good of the country, I'll remind you that there are always other options. If you have no other options in a scenario so fluid and complex, it is a result of incompetence, not principle.)

I plum don't get it.


rob said...

Thanks for writing this post.

(One note: Sullivan has pre-replied to your (correct) point about elections and the economy, in this post, where he simply says "all these patterns are valid until they aren't". I, for one, find that extremely comforting reasoning.)

redscott said...

I think their logic is the logic the Democratic Party has used for at least the last 25 years to get the support of its voters in exchange for no tangible benefits: fear of The Other, usually expressed in cultural or personal terms. It's all about Crazy Gingrich, Crazy Palin, Crazy Bachmann, or whatever the latest object of demonization is to take the focus off the party's utter failure to deliver anything. Sure, the economy sucks and we didn't do anything about it, in fact we made it worse with the deal, but you don't want to let "Them" in, do you? We're reasonable people who can talk in complete sentences, after all. Andrew Sullivan is not supporting Obama based on a hard-eyed calculation of cost and benefit, of promises made and results delivered, but because he went loopy over the way Obama (and what he ever-shiftingly symbolized in racial and/or cultural terms) made him feel. The folks at the WH are counting on getting the same reaction again, perhaps slightly dulled, but strengthened by the feeling that Obama is adult, reasonable, etc. I think that's a losing bet and relies on people ignoring the evidence of their own eyes on how crappy things are, but Sullivan's dogged loyalty proves that it's not an unreasonable bet for a broad class of (rich but culturally liberal) people.

Michael said...

Substantively, this deal is absolutely what Andrew Sullivan wants out of his president (though, in point of fact, not actually enough of it). I don't get what you plum don't get. You don't share priorities or values with Andrew Sullivan; it's pretty much that simple in this case. In my view, the extent of Sullivan's Obama-boosterism has gotten somwhat disconcerting, but he does lay the reasons for it out pretty clearly and often. Think of them what you will; they're right tere on the blog. And on this one, there isn't even any discrepancy between the policy outcome that transpired and Andrew's preferred one that makes an involved explanation for his support necessary.