Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Obama has failed!....Really?

One Republican leitmotif, hammered on day in, day out, is that President Obama's policies have failed.

This ploy uses the assumed comparison.

That is, "failed" compared to what? Compared to the boom years of the Roaring 90s, sure, OK.

But that wasn't a possibility. The fact is that unless you state what you think a politician has failed compared to, you're blowin' smoke.

It's possible that Obama has failed to make America an economic paradise. However, it's also possible that despite our persistent unemployment, America is doing vastly better than it would have otherwise. What critiques of Obama's handling of the economy never prove is just what the alternative that he's being compared to, and how it would have been better.

Here's one way of looking at it: what is considered the safest place to put your cash today, worldwide?

US. Treasury bonds, that's what. S&P notwithstanding.

But also, it's not like Obama is our reigning monarch, or even prime minister. Even when he presided over a Democratic House and Senate, he still couldn't get his way without severe compromises, because Senate rules let a tiny minority stop everything unless your side can muster not a majority but a supermajority, and even if you have a nominal supermajority, one or two defections of senators in opposite-color states may well vote to save their hides instead of supporting their side.

And if Obama doesn't have full control of the levers of American government, he has even less control over the world economy we're inextricably bound to. So economic tumult abroad--such as the Arab spring sending gas prices soaring, sending ripples through the American economy every whichway--is entirely out of the American president's control.

This is why NYtimes columnist Tom Friendman is now arguing for a prime minister form of government for America--because ruthless exploitation of our system of checks and balances, starting with exquisite gerrymandering of congressional districts, has meant that neither party can be held fully responsible for what happens on its watch. It can always claim obstructionism by the other side, and it's often right. Both ways.

In a PM system one side can take us down the wrong direction rapidly, but at least you will know who did it--there's no evading the buck when it stops at the PM's desk. And if we don't like it we voters can then throw the bums out,.

Now both sides always have plausible deniability.

Just as the Second Amendment made sense for muskets but not for shoulder-mounted stingers and AK-47s, it may be that the beautiful mechanisms the Founding Fathers constructed don't work as intended any more, and will have to be drastically modified.

The irony is that it's the people who claim to be following the Founding Fathers' words and intentions most strictly who have brought us to this pass--who have done the most to break the very system they say they revere, not by the specifics of the policies they advocate, but by their unrestrained exploitation of every trick in the rulebook to effectively overturn the results of the last election.

And the measure of a democracy is what the side that loses the election  does after that loss. Obama is the president, not Grover Norquist. Not until 2012 at least.

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