September 28, 2013
This columnist was no admirer of Ted Kennedy, and we view government efforts to control political speech as an affront to the Constitution. But it would be ludicrous to suggest that Kennedy was a terrorist, even though that is the implication of the Pfeiffer-Times-Yglesias argument. Agree or not with its cause, it had significant popular support, in large part because of the corruption of the Nixon White House.
Here is where the analogy to the Nixon years gets very interesting. The Republicans did not sneak into Congress to stage a surprise attack. They were duly elected in 2010 precisely because of widespread public opposition to ObamaCare. That law was enacted by the requisite majorities, if bare ones, in both houses of Congress. Yet while it was not illegitimate, it felt that way, and it would be fair to characterize its enactment as a failure of democratic governance. Had members of the House and Senate responded to their constituents’ wishes rather than presidential and partisan pressure, it would have gone down to defeat, probably overwhelmingly.
To be sure, backlash against ObamaCare did not prove sufficient to deny Obama a second term. His supporters claim that even if the 2010 election left the question of ObamaCare unsettled, the 2012 election resettled it. The morning after Election Day, it would have been hard to disagree.
Yet Obama is now in a position very much analogous to that of President Nixon in 1973. We now know that government corruption–namely IRS persecution of dissenters–was a factor in Obama’s re-election. To be sure, Obama himself has not, at least so far, been implicated in the IRS wrongdoing as Nixon ultimately was in Watergate. On the other hand, Nixon’s re-election victory was so overwhelming that no one could plausibly argue Watergate was a necessary condition for it. The idea that Obama could not have won without an abusive IRS is entirely plausible.
The Obama supporters who counsel intractability overlook the practical political risk of such an approach. Maybe Republicans will back down in the end, but maybe they won’t. That is to say, Obama’s intransigence could trigger a catastrophic result, and whether it does is beyond his control.
If that happens, maybe the majority of voters will blame Republicans, but maybe they won’t. Courting and then presiding over a catastrophe is not exactly a fail-safe plan for strengthening one’s presidency.
Obama’s line is “the Republicans are unreasonable because they won’t compromise — and neither will I!”