Monday, November 21, 2011

The Thrill Is Gone

Remenber as you watch this that Chris Matthews is the man so smitten by Barack Obama that he confessed before the last presidential election that he had a thrill up his leg when he heard Barack Obama speak. Evidently, it's the morning after and Mr. Matthews is beginning to realize he spent the night with, if not a cad, then a poseur:
This should not be taken to suggest that Mr. Obama has lost the Chris Matthews liberals, but that there's tremendous dissatisfaction with the president's underperformance. Slowly, the realization that they've elected Chauncey Gardener is creeping over them.

Nor is it just Matthews who no longer feels the tingle. Democrat pollsters Pat Caddell (President Carter) and Doug Schoen (President Clinton) are calling for President Obama to step aside. A president who cannot plausibly run for reelection on his record has only one course left to him which is to try to destroy the opposition. Schoen and Caddell believe that this is the only path Obama can follow, but even if he wins with such a strategy it would be a Pyrrhic victory. He'll have so toxified the political atmosphere that governing would be impossible:
Put simply, it seems that the White House has concluded that if the president cannot run on his record, he will need to wage the most negative campaign in history to stand any chance. With his job approval ratings below 45% overall and below 40% on the economy, the president cannot affirmatively make the case that voters are better off now than they were four years ago. He—like everyone else—knows that they are worse off.

President Obama is now neck and neck with a generic Republican challenger in the latest Real Clear Politics 2012 General Election Average (43.8%-43.%). Meanwhile, voters disapprove of the president's performance 49%-41% in the most recent Gallup survey, and 63% of voters disapprove of his handling of the economy, according to the most recent CNN/ORC poll.

Consequently, he has to make the case that the Republicans, who have garnered even lower ratings in the polls for their unwillingness to compromise and settle for gridlock, represent a more risky and dangerous choice than the current administration — an argument he's clearly begun to articulate.

One year ago in these pages, we warned that if President Obama continued down his overly partisan road, the nation would be "guaranteed two years of political gridlock at a time when we can ill afford it." The result has been exactly as we predicted: stalemate in Washington, fights over the debt ceiling, an inability to tackle the debt and deficit, and paralysis exacerbating market turmoil and economic decline.

If President Obama were to withdraw, he would put great pressure on the Republicans to come to the table and negotiate — especially if the president singularly focused in the way we have suggested on the economy, job creation, and debt and deficit reduction. By taking himself out of the campaign, he would change the dynamic from who is more to blame — George W. Bush or Barack Obama? — to a more constructive dialogue about our nation's future.
Schoen and Caddell believe that were Barack Obama to step aside the Democrats would nominate Hillary Clinton by acclamation and that she'd be a formidable candidate.I think they're right, and I think that the last thing the GOP wants is for the president to take the pollsters' advice. Fortunately, from their perspective, there's not much chance that he will.

Utopian Dreamers

When I first read this piece I thought the writer, a woman named Kate Pickett, was composing an amusing parody of the British Left, but as I continued to read I realized that she was herself a British Leftist and that she was, as incredible as it seems, completely serious:
When Richard Wilkinson and I sat down towards the end of 2007 to start writing The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, which was published in March 2009, we had a clear objective. After years of research, and having published a large number of papers in academic journals, we were frustrated that what we and other researchers had learned about the damage caused by income inequality was so little known.

We had shown that bigger income differences lead to worse physical and mental health, more drug use, violent crime and higher rates of imprisonment, less trust and worse child wellbeing, more children doing poorly in school and low social mobility. Yet when any of these problems were discussed in the media, there was absolutely no discussion of the role of inequality.

Politicians and policymakers were happy to talk about poverty, but almost always failed to make the necessary distinction between absolute poverty and relative poverty. In the rich, developed countries, it is relative poverty and inequality that really matter and, because inequality wreaks its damage through status competition and status anxiety. Almost all of us are touched by the impact of inequality, not just the poor, the unemployed or the disenfranchised....

[T]he truth is that not only are high salaries and bonuses often undeserved, but the inequality they create damages society. Those countries that have a smaller gap in income and wealth between the bottom 99% and the top 1% do not suffer, they flourish.
There is more claptrap per paragraph in Pickett's article than in any piece I can recall ever reading. Her point is that we need to level out income inequality by taking wealth from those who earn it and giving it to those who don't. If we do that, she implies, we'll all flourish. If we don't do it, the implication is, we'll all be dysfunctional citizens of a dystopian hell.

Luckily, this happens to be an empirically testable claim. There are many countries which, over the last sixty or seventy years, have conducted their affairs precisely as Ms Pickett suggests. Several which spring immediately to mind are the old Soviet Union, East Germany, China, North Korea, Cuba, and Zimbabwe.

The fortunate residents of these idyllic Shangri-las flourished so profoundly and achieved such blissful levels of contentment from knowing that no one (except government honchos) had any more of the world's goods than anyone else, that their rulers were forced to erect walls with armed guards on their borders to keep their people from fleeing the place. They had no problem, of course, keeping people out because no one in their right mind wanted to get in, except perhaps for Ms Pickett. The problem was that they had to make emigration illegal because everyone wanted to do it.

Yet the countries cursed with that awful income inequality to which Ms Pickett alludes, countries rife with gross economic injustice, countries where the people despair because, despite all they have, they still don't have as much as the guy next door, those countries can't handle all the people who, for some reason, are willing to risk everything, including their lives, to live there.

I wonder how Ms Pickett explains that.

Thanks to Bill for passing the article along.