Belmont Club

You've lost that lovin' feeling

Bloomberg says that  “President Barack Obama returns to Washington next week in search of one thing that can revive his health-care overhaul: a sense of crisis.  Facing polls showing a drop in his approval, diminished support from independents, factions within his Democratic Party and a united Republican opposition, Obama must recapture the sense of urgency that led to passage of the economic rescue package in February, analysts said.

“At the moment, except for the people without insurance, we’re not in a health-care crisis,” said Stephen Wayne, a professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington. “You do need a crisis to generate movement in Congress and to help build a consensus.” … Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said the administration made unprecedented health-care progress in eight months. ‘Not There Yet’

The crisis isn’t here yet, but Rahm thinks, or perhaps hopes that we’re getting there. A crisis of some sort is definitely brewing. Charles Krauthammer just wrote that Obama is an powerdive to earth. “What happened to President Obama? His wax wings having melted, he is the man who fell to earth. What happened to bring his popularity down further than that of any new president in polling history save Gerald Ford?” The same question is baffling  Senator John McCain, who told an interviewer that he believed the public was angry. Speaking to  KOLD News 13 the senior Senator from Arizona said  “I have not seen anything like this in the years I have been a member of Congress. It’s a peaceful revolution but I think it is a revolution we’re seeing.”

When asked what was the one thing that surprised him most about the town halls he replied, “the anger.” McCain believes that anger is being displayed not by professional protestors but by people who are expressing their frustration for the first time. … That’s why he believes it’s the making of a revolution against business as usual in Washington, D.C.

So here’s the mystery. If there’s a crisis, why then, is Barack Obama looking for another one? Maybe the the crisis that has brought out the public both against the Republicans and the Democrats isn’t the kind of crisis the politicians are looking for. Traditionally politicians  look for a crisis to solve — but something which the public will gratefully turned to them to solve: the kind of crisis that empowers Washington, but doesn’t wrack it. But what happens when the crisis that is roiling public opinion is about Washington itself?  Then it becomes a problem. Rahm is really hoping that the crisis of confidence in Washington is “not there yet,” hoping that his crisis gets there before their crisis does.

In any case, Rahm Emmanuel is wrong about his awaited consensus. Whichever crisis happens first, either will damage the real old consensus beyond easy repair.  The undeclared truce between the Left and the Right, their tacit albeit uneasy coexistence these last forty years has been upset by a power grab.  The unspoken rationale for the past modus vivendi was the necessity to avoid a struggle that could damage both sides irremediably.  As long as the two sides agreed to alternate at the trough, as a long as a showdown could be avoided, as long as neither side sought a decisive victory over the other, both could prosper within bounds. They just to wait their turn at the buffet line. The unintended consequence of one side making its move for decisive power, the decision of people to jump the line and step over the backs of others to gorge themselves at the steam tables — this has upset the steam table.  The buffet itself is under attack. A new game may wait around the corner, with rules that are still evolving, but the old one is trouble.  The problem with Obama’s strategy of doubling down is that instead of giving him a quick and easy victory, his failure to win at a gallop may turn the contest into a prolonged and nightmare battle of attrition. This is the most likely outcome. Nobody will be marching home in victory “before the leaves fall”. The crisis is here, just you wait, Rahm.

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