Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 8, 2009

OVERLOOKING THE CHANGE.... Most of the criticism directed towards President Obama involves his willingness to break with the recent past. His willingness to embrace change and deliver on campaign promises has led to complaints about the White House being "radical."

Wearing his contrarian hat today, the Washington Post's Jackson Diehl argues that the president is too much like his predecessor. (The headline reads, "George W. Obama?")

For example, as Diehl sees it, Obama, like Bush, isn't calling on Americans to "sacrifice." This is, on its face, an odd argument -- the nation is in the midst of a deep and painful recession. At last count, 4.4. million Americans have lost their job during the downturn, and one in seven homes are now vacant. I'm going to go out on a limb here and argue that Americans have already "sacrificed" quite a bit. Obama is supposed to make things harder on the country, to avoid resembling his predecessor?

[S]urely, you say, he's planning nothing as divisive or as risky as the Iraq war? Well, that's where the health-care plan comes in: a $634 billion (to begin) "historic commitment," as Obama calls it, that (like the removal of Saddam Hussein) has lurked in the background of the national agenda for years. We know from the Clinton administration that any attempt to create a national health-care system will touch off an enormous domestic battle, inside and outside Congress. If anything, Obama has raised the stakes by proposing no funding source other than higher taxes on wealthy Americans, allowing Republicans to raise the cries of "socialism" and "class warfare."

Just as Bush promoted tax cuts as a remedy for surplus and then later as essential in a time of deficits, so Obama has come up with strained arguments as to why health-care reform, which he supported before the economic collapse, turns out to be essential to recovery.

This is really weak. For one thing, the comparison is silly -- a deadly and costly war that should have never been fought bears no resemblance to health care reform. For another, the policy dispute over health care probably will "touch off an enormous domestic battle," but that doesn't make the idea Bush-like -- Obama is delivering on the platform on which he campaigned. By Diehl's logic, any president that proposes any kind of ambitious policy proposal is reminiscent of our failed 43rd president.

Diehl concludes that the notion of health care reform and economic growth being interconnected is "strained." Why? Because he says so, facts notwithstanding.

I can appreciate why editors find these pieces appealing -- if everyone is saying Obama is different from Bush, someone has to argue how similar they are -- but there's really no point in contrarianism for contrarianism's sake.

Steve Benen 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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Comments

Since Jackson Diehl is from Wa Po, maybe he wants the little people to have to sacrifice even more to prop up the international trading/financial market?

Posted by: Neil B ◙ on March 8, 2009 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

BTW it makes perfect sense to raise taxes on the class that benefited the most from the bubble, and not on the schmucks that are bailing them out.

Posted by: Neil B ☺ on March 8, 2009 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Tbogg takes this idiot down.

http://tbogg.firedoglake.com/2009/03/07/taking-kaiser-health-care-mountain-by-strategy/

Posted by: Lee Gibson on March 8, 2009 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

Every major economic speech this president has given has spoken of the sacrifices we face, it just doesn't get REPORTED that way. Why is that? What is Diehl's opinion on THAT fact?

Posted by: So on March 8, 2009 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

Since the porkulus bill was passed by Congress on February 13th, the S&P 500 has lost over $1.8 trillion in market cap, which is over twice the size of the plan signed into law.

Posted by: tax and pork on March 8, 2009 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

(like the removal of Saddam Hussein) has lurked in the background of the national agenda for years.

I reject the premise.
For better or worse, Bush Sr. saw fit to leave Saddam where he was. As did Clinton. When did Dubya's pet project become a "national agenda" item?

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on March 8, 2009 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

I've never heard of Jackson Diehl and have no idea who he is, and now it appears I haven't missed anything.

Posted by: qwerty on March 8, 2009 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

...like assholes, Diehl has what ever'body has. problem is -- well, two problems: his gets published in WaPo, which is downright and unfortunately a usual pity of a editorial page... if not an outrage.

and, oh, yeah, the main point: his opinion is like my asshole, right now, thanks to two black bean burritos last night. i'm sittin' here scaring the cat every now and then...

Thanks for your interesting insights there, Jackson... see mine above...

Posted by: neill on March 8, 2009 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

I hate to say it but Obama is not as different from Bush as he needs to be in some ways. As Krugman, Naomi Klein et al have said: Obama still fronts too much for the Masters crowd, folks like Geithner (Krugman should have that spot, also a place for Brad DeLong.) Maybe he's a well-meaning quasi-centrist trying to be cautious, but Krugman tells us just what's wrong with that.

At Kos they're bringing up interesting questions about where the AIG money went, and aren't those banks etc. still not telling us how they spent the stim/b-out? Could Obama solve this with some judicious EOs?

And the deregulation that messed us up: Clinton has dirty paws on that one too, he trusted the Masters too much (He could have ditched Aynal-retentive Greenspan too. BTW see this blog, http://themessthatgreenspanmade.blogspot.com/.)

Posted by: Neil B ◙ on March 8, 2009 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Since the porkulus bill was passed by Congress on February 13th, the S&P 500 has lost over $1.8 trillion in market cap, which is over twice the size of the plan signed into law.

You do know that correlation is not causation, right? Of course you do - you are just being deliberately obtuse and disingenuous, like so many others of your ilk.

The indexes keep sliding because bush-baby and his corporate dick-smokers gutted all the regulatory agencies and investors realize that the companies have been hollowed out and are nothing but facades, and they are cutting their losses. Besides that, the stimulus was too small.

Posted by: Realist on March 8, 2009 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

In tax & pork's world, obstetricians cause babies.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on March 8, 2009 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

Most of the criticism directed towards President Obama involves his willingness to break with the recent past.

Don't you mean his UNwillingness?

Oh, sorry, you mean most of the Canonically Approved DC Criticism. Forgot where I was for a moment.

Posted by: tatere on March 8, 2009 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

With Dowd in the NYT this morning, and now this item from the Post, I'm wondering when the editorial staffs of our two official national dailies will wake up and realize in the 21st century there is too much media competition to continue believing yours is the information and product that can herd public opinion.

When will they notice such a bygone information flow, if continued, becomes the moment at which public opinion is formed around them, as opposed to by them? -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on March 8, 2009 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

I have two legs, two arms & a head.So does my wife. Using Diehl's ass-crackers logic, I'm a woman.

Not enough of the right people are losing their jobs...

Posted by: slappy magoo on March 8, 2009 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

but there's really no point in contrarianism for contrarianism's sake.

Entire careers, entire publications -- Slate, for instance -- have been built on contrarianism for contrarianism's sake.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on March 8, 2009 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

"There's really no point in contrarianism for contrarianism's sake."

Really? Michael Kinsley has made a career of it.

Posted by: bat of moon on March 8, 2009 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Dang, Davis X. Machina, you beat me to it. Good examples.

Posted by: bat of moon on March 8, 2009 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

"There's really no point in contrarianism for contrarianism's sake."

Which is why no one reads Gadfly's comments or his blog.

Posted by: Realist on March 8, 2009 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Here is a suggestion for sacrifice. To lay a little ground work though, I want to point out that it has become acceptable to add additonal taxes to each pack of cigarettes to fund children's health care. Cigarettes, used the way the product is intended to be used (I am not aware of any other way to use them), damage or destroy the health of half the people that smoke them and add additional expense to health care. Why can't additional taxes be added to alcohol, with maybe an exception for wine because of resvatrol, since alcohol, used the way it was intended to be used, can also harm the user (liver damage, death, additional health care costs, etc.). My point is, why not a nickel or dime tax on each can of beer and a quarter or fifty cents on each bottle of liquor for examples. Of course the alcohol industry would lobby and fight this tooth and nail but it would be an additional source of revenue and a "sacrifice". I am not protesting the additional tax on cigarettes, just saying that any product that harms the user should be open for additional taxation too. Especially at a time when increased government revenue can be used to offset stimulus plans, health care reform, etc.

Posted by: tko on March 8, 2009 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, my main complaint about Obama is that in more ways than we want to admit, he's too much like his predecessor. See Glenn Greenwald, or on foreign policy see Juan Cole. In too many ways he's changing the tone but not breaking with the policies.

Posted by: Joe Buck on March 8, 2009 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe we should tax what Joe Buck has been smoking too.

Posted by: tko on March 8, 2009 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Problem is the corporate media confuses "objectivity" with "neutrality." It creates the same kind of moral laziness that led to this article. It has no basis in fact, in the objective world, but since it is contrarian, it has some kind of journalistic relevance. It is a state of disgrace, really. The Wash Post and NY Times? State of disgrace.

Posted by: Patriotic Liberal on March 8, 2009 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

In too many ways he's changing the tone but not breaking with the policies.

Will is not enought. Obama could make like freakin' Prince Kropotkin, and he'd still run into President Susan Collins every trip up the Hill.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on March 8, 2009 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

I'm going to go out on a limb here and argue that Americans have already "sacrificed" quite a bit.

More like they've been sacrificed. I'm not sure on what altar, exactly.

Posted by: Roddy McCorley on March 8, 2009 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

There are so many fundamental differences with Obama's philosophical approach versus that of Bush: His call for greater fairness, restraint and transparency over the gluttony of greed, secrecy and excess that for several decades has known no bounds.

Yes, this is nit-picking, and expect to see more.
Yes, it's being contrary for no damn good reason, and expect to see more.

Why doesn't anyone stop to note what a HUGE refreshing departure Obama is from the last couple of decades?!

Because it's more fun to nit-pick and criticize.

One thing you can count on is our really, really bad memories. Some of the criticism is warranted,but it's really getting out of hand, and this example Steve Benen sets forth is a good one.

Wow--

Doesn't anyone remember the shroud of secrecy that marked the Bush years? Years where to speak out at all against anything meant you were not a patriot, against the war meant you risked losing your job? Where press couldn't even speak out against it? Phil Donahue for example revealed he was required to have on his show two pro-war guests for every (same show) every anti-war guest.. Years where whatever Bush/Cheney decided was right happened without question. Where torture happened. Years of essentially no regulation, where SEC and other government agencies were emasculated, where government was considered 'the problem'-- years of turning the other way, of not speaking to our 'enemies' (as we alienated virtually the world entire), of exporting jobs, of anti-science and arts legislation, of taking animals off the endangered species list, treating notions like pay equity and 'Global Warming' as jokes, diversions designed by all the godless heathens and naysayers of the world....

I agree with Steve here--this sort of hair-splitting criticism is just silly.

The president IS asking us to sacrifice. The problem is folks don't know what that word even means!! (for a fantastic analysis, please see Frank Richs' column at NYT).

And what do we see?

We hear accusations he's the anti-Christ, he's a communist--all sorts of bizarre stuff..

We see angry bumper stickers that read:" Honk if you are paying my mortgage" (Likely put out by our friends and CNBC)...

What about a bumper sticker that reads:
"Honk if you're proud to be helping the country get back on track!"

"Honk if you're relieved we're taking care of our planet for our children"

"Honk if you're happy to have a President with a brain!"

Posted by: Insanity on March 8, 2009 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

One useful sacrifice would be if we brought the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan; the sacrifice being by the Kagan, O'Hanlon, and assorted other chest-beating families.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on March 8, 2009 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

"George W. Obama?"

Good point. Borrow-and-spend is borrow-and-spend. I used to call Bush the King of Spenders, but clearly he has to be downgraded to Duke of Spenders, long live the King.

Posted by: Luther on March 9, 2009 at 2:04 AM | PERMALINK

there's really no point in contrarianism for contrarianism's sake.

Shhhh -- don't tell Slate.

Posted by: Gregory on March 9, 2009 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

Universal healthcare is the same as wasting billions on an unnecessary war and occupation?

Boy, they really are desperate to be contrarian.

Borrow-and-spend is borrow-and-spend.

No, it's not, but I don't expect moronic partisan hack to understand the difference, so I won't waste my time explaining it it to you.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on March 9, 2009 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

I personally don't remember anytime in the last 8 years Bush asking anyone but military personnel and their families to sacrifice.

Posted by: ET on March 9, 2009 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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