Belmont Club

A Time To Choose

In these inflationary times, a million dollars doesn’t buy much any more. Bill Maher, who donated that amount to the Obama campaign, found there are distinct limits to what 7 figures can purchase. An ABC News blog writes:

Senior Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod has canceled an appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher that was originally scheduled for later this month.

After the fallout from Rush Limbaugh’s crass insults of Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke, conservatives began arguing that there was a double standard, with Democrats (and the media) far more tolerant when liberal media figures use crass words to describe Republican women, Maher being Exhibit A in their case. (David Letterman, on whose show First Lady Michelle Obama will soon appear, is Exhibit B.)

In the midst of this, the comedian Louis CK recently pulled out as entertainer at the Radio-TV Correspondents Dinner. This followed criticisms — and a threatened boycott by Fox News Channel’s Greta Van Susteren — over the comedian’s past use of offensive language about former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Only getting President Obama re-elected matters. Maher is for now a  distraction. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina wrote only a few days ago: “Friend, if the general election were held today, President Obama would lose to Mitt Romney — according to the latest poll from Washington Post-ABC News. Now, many other polls put the President on top, but all point to the same reality: We’re looking at a race that will be tighter than you think.”

Can't Buy Me Love

Ironically, Maher may have originally been part of a plan to administer the coup de grace which the President’s strategists believed was within their grasp.  Michael Barone describes what he believes was a strategic mistake.

You can almost hear the note of surprise in their voices when you read the Washington Post and New York Times reporters’ stories on their papers’ latest political polls.

Surprise! Just when they thought that Barack Obama was pulling ahead, with positive job ratings, and just after the mainstream media have been savaging Republicans for two words Rush Limbaugh uttered on his radio program, Obama’s numbers seem to be tanking.

Exactly what the mistake consisted in is still unclear. One theory holds that by attempting to shift the “frame” from economic issues to the culture wars — as exemplified by the Sandra Fluke campaign and thereafter bolstered by the attack on Limbaugh — the President provoked a backlash; a backlash that is manifesting in Maher’s disinvitations and Louis CK’s cancelled gigs.

Another theory, which Barone toys with, is that the President underestimated the degree to which economic bad news is undermining his popularity. “Voters’ focus is on economic issues, and on these most oppose the president’s policies. His media cheerleaders who thought his February numbers meant the election was over were fooling themselves.” Fooling themselves into believing the economy was actually improving; fooling themselves into thinking the voters could be distracted by media circuses.

The problem facing the President is that most of his “gains” are now strategic liabilities.  Only last month the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein was saying that Obamacare would bring “a cumulative reduction of $1.7 trillion over the 10 years from 2011 to 2020” in health care costs. He got the $1.7 trillion dollars part right, only he got the sign wrong.

President Obama’s landmark healthcare overhaul is projected to cost $1.76 trillion over a decade, reports the Congressional Budget Office, a hefty sum more than the $940 billion estimated when the healthcare legislation was signed into law. To put it mildly, ObamaCare’s projected net worth is far off from its original estimate — in fact, about $820 billion off.

This would still allow Klein and the President’s supporters to claim that Obamacare will cost less than it would have cost had Obama not been President. The administration’s rhetoric of “jobs saved” compares today’s actual employment with the projected unemployment envisioned under their constantly shifting scenarios. Thus, you are always better off today than you would have been without Obama.

It Always Could Have Been Worse

But if media circuses can no longer distract voters, and Obama’s policies are themselves dooming the economy, then what avenue left for an administration victory? The New York Times, in an editorial called A Rejection of Discrimination, suggests an answer.

So it was no surprise on Monday when the Justice Department did the right thing and forcefully rejected the state’s voter-ID law entirely. The department said the law clearly disadvantages Hispanic voters, who lack photo ID’s at a much higher rate than the state’s overall population. The Voting Rights Act requires that states and counties with a history of racial discrimination prove that new voting laws don’t discriminate in purpose or effect, and Texas was unable to meet that test.

The department’s action comes after it also blocked a similar law in South Carolina in December, a demonstration that it is serious about overturning a growing body of politically inspired legislation that could make it harder for people in more than a dozen states to vote. (It has also blocked Florida’s decision to curtail early voting and third-party registration drives.) These laws, pushed by Republicans, would erect barriers to minorities, students and the poor, all of whom tend to vote for Democrats.

This is playing with fire, akin to “destroying the village in order to save it” and it reflects the growing desperation of Washington to save itself at nearly all costs. It is almost tempting for some conservatives to say, “let Obama win if that will avert such a catastrophe”.

The curious counter to that threat is provided by Mitt Romney, who is probably the least threatening Republican candidate to Democrats. If the alternative to an administration victory By Any Means Necessary is Mitt Romney there may not be enough support among Democrats for really hard-line acts.

But with the elections fast approaching, the symmetry will break one way or the other. The administration strategists will have to decide whether 2012 is in effect lost but to all the most extreme efforts or whether it is better to poison the throne that any Republican may accede to and try again in 2016. There are good reasons for the Left to rest on their “gains” and go the rest of the way in four years. But there’s a risk too. The world is approaching a time of rapid change. By 2016 the institutional world Barack Obama arose in may no longer be there.


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