I’ve been mulling over in my mind an exposition on why the Democrats appear so feckless to me. I’ve been thinking about this more over the past few days while I’ve witnessed an emerging narrative regarding financial regulatory reform. This new conventional wisdom is that the fraud charges against Goldman Sachs seal the deal. It says that this reform was already trending towards the likelihood of passing, and that the recent news makes it an unstoppable juggernaut, prompting both the content of the bill to get harsher towards the banks, and the pressure on Republicans to vote for it almost impossible to resist.
And I still just don’t buy it.
Now, to be sure, a financial regulation bill might still pass. It might even be a good bill. Let’s not forget that I was wrong about health care. I said it would never pass, and yet it obviously did. However, I do note – quite importantly, I think – that it passed with zero votes from Republicans in either side on Congress. It was only a clever finagling of rules that made the health care law even possible. And so with the financial reform bill, even if it does pass, and even if it does pick up a single vote from a Republican in Congress, I still think Obama and the Democrats are long, long overdue in understanding the basis and nature of their opposition. Krugman neatly sums up the key idea:
“I have a theory about the problem here. My understanding is that Obama officials have looked at the polls, which show that the public overwhelmingly favors cracking down on Wall Street; so they assumed that the GOP wouldn’t dare stand in the way. But they seem not to have learned, even now, that the right has an awesome ability to create its own reality: that Mitch McConnell et al would stand in the way of reform while claiming to be taking a stand against Wall Street.
Nor can you count on the truth to sink in with the public. The conventions of he-said-she-said reporting, among other things, make it surprisingly easy to get away with even the most obvious hypocrisy.”
This is exactly right. And the reports that the Democrats are largely unprepared to deal with and effectively confront unanimous GOP opposition suggests that they learned very little from health care. In a world that made sense, it would be true that combining knowledge of (1) polling that shows the public is still outraged at the banks that caused this mess, (2) the continuing anger with the huge bailouts of these banks, (3) the continuing lagging of the economy, plus (4) the very recent charges against Goldman Sachs, would all combine to make it nearly impossible for all except the most conservative congressmen from the most conservative districts to oppose a financial regulatory bill.
But it would be foolish to think that would happen. After all, in a world that made sense, Sarah Palin wouldn’t get to rail against Obama’s government death panels. Yet she does, and the media dutifully reports it as news. One of the earliest moments when I knew the Bush administration was an almost incomparably terrible occupant of the White House was back in 2004, after reading a seminal NYT Magazine article from Ron Suskind.
The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
Mitch McConnell doesn’t care what the facts and wonks and politics suggest politicians should do regarding FinReg reforms. No matter what the bill says, it is a bailout of the banks. No matter what the bill says, it’s the GOP that is standing up for Main Street while Obama defends Wall Street. After all these years, they’re still creating their own reality. And the news media have two choices: (1) report the lies and get trashed for being liberal, or (2) give equal weight to both sides while still getting trashed for being liberal. They choose option (2).
This post has already gotten decently long, and ideally it is around this time that I would offer my solution to this problem. But, alas, I just don’t have any solutions. The GOP is committed to the total failure of Obama and the total opposition of all of his policies. They are immune from traditional political pressures due to (1) few close primary battles except for those further to the right (Rubio, Hayworth, etc.), (2) a news media that is failing our country, and (3) a postmodern take on politics in which they create their own reality, which gets enforced by their Hannitys, Limbaughs and Becks and ingrained as fact.
I just don’t see how this one gets fixed. But at least I see that it exists. I’m not so sure that Obama and the Democrats do.