07 February 2009

Who cares about What! What About HOW?

Kim Strassel at the Wall Street Journal puts some perspective on the first two weeks of Obama-nation, and maybe the next 206:

The knock on Candidate Obama was that he put style ahead of substance. Who knew what he was going to do (and who cared)? It was all about how he was going to do it -- with bipartisanship and ethics and a new era of "responsibility." Now comes the reckoning. President Obama is being judged not on the what, but the how...

As the media dug into Daschle taxland, it discovered that (wow) he was a rich person, routinely paid by special interests to help them navigate the giant federal government. Wait, wait, cried Mr. Obama, let's focus on the what -- namely, my health-care agenda, to which I believe Mr. Daschle is integral. No, no, roared the mob, we want to talk about the things you used to talk about, namely, how you could ever justify this...

[T]his administration, riffing off its pledge to cross the aisle, set out an early standard of achieving 80 Senate votes. The White House outlined this aspiration, even as it handed over authorship to House Democrats -- partisans all.

What predictably emerged was a colossal spending embarrassment -- long on condoms, short on stimulus -- that justified every House Republican (and 11 House Democrats) in voting no. Mr. Obama didn't like the result, but since he's supposed to be changing the tone, couldn't gripe at his own party. Majority Leader Harry Reid knows this, and has ignored pleas to fix the mess in the Senate. Public support is ebbing away, giving the GOP more cover to run. Mr. Obama will get his stimulus, but what is in it will at most rank equally with headlines about how it was so many voted against it.

The president is reassuring the public that it takes time to change Washington... That requires cutting back the influence of government -- on which lobbying thrives. Will Mr. Obama go there?

Unless he does, it isn't clear how he navigates these problems -- which aren't going away. His promises to change the way Washington worked weren't throwaway lines tacked to an otherwise meaty agenda. They were his agenda.

One can fairly posit that Strassel, a conservative, is speaking only for herself when she says that Obama's stimulus package will be judged more by the how than the what, but Obama won because of what we used to call the Reagan Democrats, and what we would now call independents (in spite of their having some formal party affiliation.) I believe that the Independent vote is not ideological; they are not small government types. They really buy Obama's statement from the inaugural address:

"The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works."

These independents are pragmatists, and they (we?) looked with hope at many of his early appointments. But now, we are looking at this pork laden "stimulus" bill which will ratchet up the deficit and 50% of people believe it will do more harm than good. That is most of the Republicans in the country and about half the independents. I have to say, I agree with them.

Obama is also right to try and lower expectations by repeatedly telling us the timeline for recovery is long, because if the 50% are right, his honeymoon is going to come to an end long before the recovery kicks in.

So back to Strassel's point: to reduce the will Obama do anything to shrink the infulence of government?

Not on your life. Rather, we may be looking at the most effective example of setting the wrong tone and thereby disappointing the constuituents since Jimmy Carter.

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