Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Obama's Curious Hope

President Obama was asked last night if he underestimated the difficulty of achieving bipartisanship. His answer:

I don't think -- I don't think I underestimated it. I don't think the American people underestimated it. They understand that there have been a lot of bad habits built up here in Washington. And it's going to take time to break down some of those bad habits.

You know, when I made a series of overtures to the Republicans -- going over to meet with both Republican caucuses, you know, putting three Republicans in my Cabinet, something that is unprecedented, making sure that they were invited here to the White House, to talk about the economic recovery plan -- all those were not designed simply to get some short-term votes. They were designed to try to build up some trust over time.

And I think that, as I continue to make these overtures, over time, hopefully that will be reciprocated.
Sadly, hope is not a plan. And I question whether this is really a case of "bad habits" in need of breaking.

The fact is, elected officials run campaigns in which they advance positions on public policy, ranging from the very specific (e.g., "I will deliver federal funding for the Crapton causeway") to the very general (e.g., "federal spending on local projects is terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad"). In elections, voters choose between candidate A and candidate B, albeit often with nose clinched shut to forestall the stench rising from two unsavory alternatives. Consequently, members of Congress enter office with a justifiable sense that the voters endorsed their approach to public policy. The fact that their approach to public policy may be ludicrous, irresponsible, and incoherent does not change the fact that it undercuts the legitimacy of elections when elected officials change their positions after taking office, whether in the name of "bipartisanship" or anything else.

So while I disagree with the position taken vis-a-vis the stimulus bill by, say, Senators Mitch McConnell and Jim DeMint, it doesn't change the fact that Kentucky voters preferred McConnell and South Carolina voters preferred Jim DeMint.

For that matter, the voters of South Carolina and Kentucky voted overwhelmingly for McCain-Palin and against Obama-Biden last fall, so there again, when presented with the choice between two reasonably distinct governing philosophies, they chose the crazy one and rejected the sane one. I would prefer to live in a world in which we didn't have batshit-crazy politicians, but in the real world, we have them in droves, and they are put there by even more numerous batshit-crazy voters. Under our system, even crazy voters get representation in Congress. Crazy, irresponsible, malinformed, reckless voters prefer and deserve crazy, irresponsible, malinformed, reckless representatives.

Please correct me if I have said anything that isn't blindingly obvious here. Until I am subjected to that correction, I will continue to scratch my head at President Obama's "hope" that crazy people will abandon the crazy people they so capably represent by rejecting the crazy policies they promised to pursue. It would be a good thing for the country, yes, but that's only to say that sanity is better than insanity and responsibility is better than irresponsibility. It's easy to say that, but then again this is a democracy, which is sometimes indistinguishable from "bad habit."

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