Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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The Ideological Hack As Universal Genius

President Obama's stubborn persistence when he is wrong can be perplexing.  So last week he said that the Supreme Court overturning Obamacare would be a "an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress."  Now that obviously wasn't right.  And there is nothing wrong with misspeaking sometimes.  Everybody does it.  If he had just said he was wrong, the only people who would hold it against Obama would be the ones who are already against him  But he couldn't just admit he was wrong.  He had to say that he was right but that everybody misheard him (stupid everybody.)  President Obama then clarified by telling us that he only meant that the Supreme Court had not struck down an economic law passed by Congress since Lochner.   Only several problems with this analysis.  Lochner wasn't about a federal law.  It was about a state law.  Also, the Supreme Court continued to invalidate federal economic regulations for more than a quarter century after the Lochner decision.  So why did President Obama double down on the wrong?

I think it is because he is used to not getting caught.  President pretends to be the above-it-all guy who isn't about ideology.  He is about reality and everybody else is about ideology.  He has a good affect to pull of this act.  He is naturally confident and very calm.  The calm is especially important.  Rick Santorum has plenty of confidence, but he often comes across like a hothead.  It often looks like Santorum's reason has been overcome with his passion.  If people don't know the specifics of what Obama is talking about, they are inclined to give his statements the benefit of the doubt.

So President Obama says that the Solyndra loan was happened because "The understanding is that some companies are not going to succeed, some companies will do very well -- but the portfolio as a whole ends up supporting the kind of innovation that helps make America successful in this innovative 21st century economy,"  So he is just a futurist technocrat right?  He is making the investments that are going to make America a big success.  So let's give the government capitalist in the White House a break.  He isn't going to get all of the calls right. 

Well then it turns out that the vetting for Solyndra was rushed and that the real experts at the Treasury Department weren't allowed to weigh in.  The real story is that Obama is less a visionary investor in the future and more a crony capitalist with an ideological fixation on green energy.

Or what about Obama's attack on the latest version of the Ryan budget?  President Obama argued that, under Ryan's plan, seniors would have to pay more to enroll in traditional Fee For Service Medicare.  It turns out that all the programs offered under the Ryan budget would include at least the same actuarial benefits as Medicare and lower cost options would only be viable if they offered the same benefits at a lower price.  Oh, and Ryan proposes to grow Medicare spending at the same rate as President Obama.

So why does Obama do all this?  The main reason is that he usually gets away with it.  A lot more people have heard Obama's promises about government-financed green energy than have heard about the Treasury Department's inspector general report on Solyndra.  The President has the megaphone so a lot more people heard his attack on the Ryan budget than read Ryan's rebuttal.  The problem with Obama's "unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress" comment wasn't that it was false, it was that so much of the political press called him out on it and lots of people have the vague, remember-it-from-high school knowledge that the Supreme Court has struck down federal laws lots of times.  Most people have no such context when it comes to Solyndra or the Ryan budget. 

The Obama above-it-all act works pretty well, but it is fragile.  If he gets skewered just right, it doesn't matter how calm or confident he seems.  The spell is broken.  The Romney team needs to point to the gap between the rhetorical Obama and the real Obama.  He is the constitutional law professor who tries to tell you that the Supreme Court never struck down a law passed by a "strong majority" of Congress.  He is the crony capitalist who says he is investing in the future but is really just carelessly shoveling money out the door to politically connected companies.  He can't tell the truth about either his own Medicare proposal or that of the Republicans and then he says it is all about the math.  I think humor would be the best weapon here.  There is something absurd about the way Obama presents himself.  Exposing the absurdity in a way that doesn't come across as mean spirited would be the best way to deflate the incumbent, but that is a hard trick to pull off.         
Categories > Politics

Discussions - 7 Comments

Excellent post. James Madison understood the ideological passion perfectly.

"Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government [pure democracy], have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions." Federalist No. 10


Yes, humor is the way to deflate the overinflated. Since we are observing absurdity in action, exposing the absurdity, bursting the president's "fact" bubbles, should be no great effort. I heard a story once about Lincoln cracking jokes after he'd heard bad news about the war, casualties and such horrors. Sometimes, when things are awful, the only way to respond is with laughter.

Kate, "Since we are observing absurdity in action, exposing the absurdity, bursting the president's "fact" bubbles, should be no great effort." I dunno. Using humor about these sorts of things without coming across like a jerk is a tough balancing act. Reagan could do it. I haven't seen Romney be able to do it effectively and I doubt vey many politicians could. Maybe Chrisite a little, but maybe he comes off too hot for a presidential race.

Yes, after I wrote that, I started remembering watching Romney trying to do wit; sometimes it comes off, but only rarely. He sounds better when he is simply in earnest. There are modes of humor; some expert should help him find his. Wit is definitely something he should look for in a vice president.

I know what to do. Somebody get him a "Best of Wodehouse" set and make sure he reads it. When I see an article on "What does Mitt Romney Read?" and he's got
Joy in the Morning or Mating Season in the list and the article mentions the news that he made his speechwriters memorize passages, then -- oh, Pete, it could transform American political rhetoric.

Ask Jeeves has already been tried...Romney only reads Google Analytics.

Joy in the Morning failed phase two clinical trials at Cato, in part because floating the idea that Romney depends upon a valet was thought to escalate the class war.

In point of fact Romney's Jeeves is a "ginger"(h/t Southpark) aide(basically a valet) Garrett Jackson did catch a chair for him, and instructed him generally in the ways of grits (keeping grits in a briefcase is more troublesome than granola bars)...maybe the damn hippies knew something about food on the go?

In addition to being a red headed step child, Garrett Jackson was also hurt by a favorable article in the liberul' New York Times.

You may still be right about Joy in the Morning, as I am convinced that Garrete Jackson is more popular than Obama's valet Rahm Emanuel.

On the other hand since I have to filer this comment via Google's reCaptcha, I sort of wonder what sorts of statistical nonsense will be generated linking Ask Jeeves and Google.

John, I certainly do not want Mitt Romney to pattern himself after Bertie Wooster. God forbid! I just want him to learn Wodehouse's patterns of rhetoric in analogy, metaphor and simile for the purpose of "Exposing the absurdity in a way that doesn't come across as mean spirited".

Don't use the Jeeves stories, but use the Psmith stories, or Mr. Mulliner if you prefer, or have him do a study of Uncle Fred and the subtle put-down spoken while spreading sweetness and light. There's more to Wodehouse than Bertie or Jeeves, John.

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