Peter Beinart’s Weird Disconnect Between Policy and Politics
Center-left pundit Peter Beinart is perfectly OK with the idea that the Democrats may get clobbered in this year’s midterms. He writes that he’s happy enough that the Democrats have passed health care reform, the stim bill, and most likely, the financial reform package:
All of which makes me feel… pretty darn good. There’s a tendency, especially on television, to judge policy by how it affects politics. That’s because most pundits don’t like judging policy on its own merits. First, it’s hard, since policy questions are often complicated. Second, such judgments undermine the pretense of objectivity that many analysts cultivate. Thus, talking heads often respond to policy questions with political answers. The host asks “Are the Democrats making a mistake by pushing this health-care bill?” And instead of answering: “They sure are, this sucker will euthanize Grandma,” the talking head says, “Well, the polls look bad, this could really hurt them this fall.”
I don’t happen to believe that the Democrats’ policy successes are the reason they’ll get hurt this fall. They’ll get hurt because they run Washington, and Obama has been president for more than a year, and as a result they now own the terrible economy. And since many of their big policy initiatives—the stimulus package, the auto takeover, the bank bailouts, even health-care reform—are being judged on whether they’ve rapidly improved the economic fortunes of average Americans, they look like failures. But even if someone could prove that Obama’s big policy victories were, in and of themselves, politically disastrous, I would still say it’s an excellent tradeoff.
“Judging policy on its own merits?” What planet did Beinart drop to earth from? It is the real world consequences of policy where politics enters the picture. And whether Beinart acknowledges it or not, some of those consequences are scaring people half to death.
Massive debt that no one knows how to pay off, changes to the fundamental relationship between the citizen and the federal government, worries about the relevance of the constitution – all of this and more is a factor in people’s political calculations above and beyond whether it will be easier for them to get health insurance. And, I dare say, when many of them find it much more difficult to get a mortgage or a credit card as the financial reform bill will almost certainly make it so, they won’t be so enamored of much of the policy in the first place. Nor if the Democrats push cap and trade through the senate that promises to add an unknown amount to everyone’s electric bill – Heritage says as much as $1800 a year – will people be dancing in the streets over these “policy successes.”
If Mr. Beinart chooses to believe that the bad economy is the only thing standing between the Democrats and a smashing mid term victory, someone should wake him up pronto. He has apparently slept through the last year’s debates over not just the policy of health care reform, but the consequences of that policy to individual freedom and our future. Perhaps Mr. Beinart has heard of the tea party movement? Or maybe he’s so in love with the skewed narrative being advanced by his fellow leftists that he can dismiss their concerns so readily.
It’s not just the effect on people’s lives that citizens judge the efficacy of a policy. That may be what the liberals are counting on, but if that were the case, the health care bill would be riotously popular. The idea that people should be grateful for these gifts from government fails to recognize that Americans are particular about some things, and one of them is their rock ribbed belief in a government that doesn’t try to do too much. Call it a belief in “small” government if you wish. It is the recognition that the more government tries to do, fewer choices are presented to citizens. You don’t need a PHD to know that less choice means less freedom. Americans figured that out 221 years ago and have not changed since.
Beinart demonstrates an appalling attitude; the belief that policy is an end in and of itself, disconnected from its consequences on ordinary people, and that it doesn’t matter if citizens support a policy because it was advanced and passed for their own good – even if they can’t see how wonderful it is. If they want to punish Democrats for pushing policies they disagree with, that’s regrettable but there’s not a damn thing the rubes can do about it.
Finally, doesn’t Beinart contradict himself here?
This is how our system of government is meant to work. Members of Congress are supposed to get elected so they can pass legislation, or not pass legislation, so they can get elected. If, as looks likely, Congressional Democrats get creamed this fall, pundits will spend Election Night pondering what they and the president did wrong. I’ll be thinking about the stimulus, health care and financial reform, and pondering what they did right.
But isn’t the reason Mr. Beinart will still be happy is because the policy successes are divorced from politics? And if this is so, how does he square that with his theory of “how our system of government works?” The policies passed via legislation by Congress are supposed to be popular so that they can get re-elected. Beinart is saying it doesn’t matter except when it does.
I am glad Mr. Beinart is going to be happy if the Democrats get slaughtered this November. But his nauseating condescension toward the citizens of this country who have to live with the consequences of the policies he is supporting – both known and unknown – is revealing of a mind set more in tune with a monarchy than a republic.