Of all the weird things to happen over the past decade, one of the weirdest has been Clive Crook's transformation into the anti-Ezra Klein: someone who uses his knowledge of policy to cloud and confuse. More and more we find Clive Crook taking refuge in the position that:
- Barack Obama's policies are by and large sensible and centrist--in many cases, a bit right of center.
- The Republicans are blocking sensible and centrist policies--even those that are right of center, even Bill Clinton's tax policy, George H.W. Bush's foreign policy, John McCain's climate policy, Mitt Romney's health-care policy, and Ronald Reagan's immigration policy--because they want to make Barack Obama's presidency appear to be and be a failure.
- Barack Obama has been unable to overwhelm Republican obstruction, and has had substantial but limited success in implementing policies that are by and large sensible and centrist.
- It's Barack Obama's fault that the Republicans are being obstructionist. I don't like him.
This is not reality-based discourse here. The text makes no sense. What is the subtext that does?
From four years ago: Brad DeLong : Clive Crook Seems to Have It Slightly Off...: The thoughtful and intelligent Clive Crook writes:
Obama’s lonely quest for consensus: For all its flaws, the stimulus bill that Congress passed last week and President Barack Obama will sign on Tuesday is better than no bill, and better than further delay. Action is already months late, held up by the election and the protracted White House transition...
Action is already months late, but not because of the election and the White House transition. The deal of an immediate stimulus--60% spending, 40% tax cuts, all focused on bang-for-buck--was there to be made the first Wednesday in November, and was offered. The Republicans decided... to oppose it. Action is delayed, yes, but not delayed by the institutional calendar--delayed by the Republican Party.
Why the Republican Party has taken this line is not a question Crook investigates. As best as I can tell, there are three roughly equally important reasons:
- Some Republicans agree that stimulus is a good idea but are scared of primary challenges from the right if they vote for it.
- Some Republicans agree that stimulus is a good idea but remember that solid opposition to Clinton no matter what the issue was the path to electoral victory in 1994, and hope to repeat that.
- Some Republicans think that stimulus is a bad idea--largely because they haven't figured out which of their experts are trying to teach them how the world works, and which are trying to provide them with ideological air cover for positions taken for other reasons.
Crook doesn't run through these reasons--passing up a chance to educate his readership. And he demands the impossible of Barack Obama:
The public sees the administration as both failing in its effort to win bipartisan support and losing control of the process... there is little cause to celebrate.... Mr Obama is right about the need for consensus.... The government as a whole must lead public opinion. Before the worst happens, it must convince voters that powerful fiscal stimulus is needed. Before the worst happens, it must tell voters why many more hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars will be needed to stabilise the financial system.... [T]he whole burden [is] on the president...
While admitting that it is impossible--because of the Republicans:
[T]he Republicans’ objections were inept. To argue that any and all spending increases were wrong was absurd. A judicious blend of spending and tax cuts makes sense for many reasons, especially in so large a plan.... [T]he Republicans[']... complaints signalled no willingness to compromise.... [T]heir misguided fixation on the size of the overall package, an effort to reclaim the mantle of fiscal conservatism, led them to oppose an appropriately large stimulus regardless of the mix. Having adopted that position, they had nothing of interest to say...
As long as Republicans continue to think that stonewall opposition to Obama does not cost them anything, they will continue.
And as long as observers like Clive Crook make the failure of bipartisanship Barack Obama's responsibility and not the responsibility of the Republicans, Republicans will continue to think--rightly--that stonewalling does not cost them anything.
And that is, to a large degree the story of the past four years, and the next four as well…