Morning Report, August 13: How do we assess the success/failure of Obama’s initiatives? Why the Left Cannot Countenance the Rationality of Opposition. Disappearing Boats. And the God of Danger and Dynamite.
1. Yesterday’s upbeat economic news is followed by today’s downbeat indicators. Of course, most people on both sides of the political spectrum believe that the economy will eventually turn around. The question then becomes: how will the success or failure of Obama’s policies be measured? Obama’s approval rating has fallen to 47%, the lowest yet (with 52% disapproving). Presumably Obama will receive a bump in his approval ratings when the economy turns around — whether or not he deserves credit for it. Presidential approval ratings are, in some ways, measures of how Americans feel about America’s prospects, and a sunnier picture of the future will help Obama considerably. However, if the economy begins to turn into a second rough patch — whether it’s due to inflation or the withdrawal of stimulus spending, or whatever — then he and the Democrats will have a tough time in the 2010 midterms and possibly in 2012. Yet the effects of any particular economic policies are difficult to measure.
One way of measuring whether Obama deserves credit for his response, as the economy is “levelling out” and perhaps turning positive, is comparing the American recovery to recoveries overseas. Germany and France, both led by conservatives who resisted Obama’s pressure to spend more on stimulus, actually saw growth in the last quarter, and appear to be leading a European recovery. As one conservative commentator writes: “Why? The radical policies of the Obama administration has capital sidelined for the most part. Investors who saw the White House’s bullying tactics with GM and Chrysler bondholders have little incentive to jump into American markets. Those who see the coming takeovers of the health-care and energy-production sectors have no reason to invest in either. And with energy prices about to explode through the imposition of cap-and-trade, who would want to sink their money into start-ups and expansions now? As long as Democrats insist on shoving radical, business-hostile legislation through Congress, expect this fibrillating stagnation in the American economy.”
These things will receive a lot of ‘ink’ in the months to come. We have seen the battle over what to do in response to the financial crisis. Now we will begin to see the battle over how to assess what was done. We may have a long way to go before we see a broad and sustained recovery (also see the now-famed Nouriel Roubini); but when it comes, how will we assess who deserves credit?
2. A massive merchant ship simply disappeared after passing through the English channel–nowhere near the Bermudan Triangle. An intriguing ministry; we can pray for the captain and crew.
3. I have long been concerned by the tendency among those on the Left to dismiss the rationality of those on the Right. I fear we’re seeing the consequences now. For years, books such as the odious What’s the Matter with Kansas? have argued that the Right has cynically used “wedge issues” such as abortion and gay marriage to deceive voters and convince them to vote against their economic and social interests. The presuppositions here are corrosive: first, that abortion and gay marriage are not deeply and significantly moral issues, but are “cultural” differences cynically exploited; second, that the economic and social interests of the lower and middle classes is clearly best advanced in the policies of the Democratic party. The notion that a lower-class family might not want a giveaway, and might think it is better for the economy as a whole (and thus also for them) if taxes are lower (for instance), is dismissed immediately, or, more often, not even considered.
This turns Republican voters–or, really, anyone who does not jump on board with Democratic priorities–into irrational automatons to be manipulated by the moneyed elite. That such voters might be right to care so much about life and family issues, and that they might be right that their economic and social interests are best served by conservative policies, is apparently inconceivable. The Left for a long time has been so convinced of its intellectual superiority that it has refused to take seriously the rationalities of its opponents; refused to engage the arguments on their merits and have instead sought to counter the “manipulation” of conservative power-brokers. This is due to a lack of intellectual imagination, an inability to enter into the thought-world of others and see how their arguments too are rational, perhaps even more rational on occasion.
Now, facing opposition that is both stronger and broader than they anticipated, those on the Left again assume that it is not rational concerns that motivate the opponents of health care. Surely they must be deceived, since the rational arguments in favor of the liberal position are so overwhelming that any opposition must be irrational.
Well, what was perhaps seen as most irrational and deceptive was the concern that Obama is going to kill grandma. Yes, put that way, it sounds ridiculous. And yes, it came from Sarah Palin, who incarnates the very irrationality that the Left imputes to conservative Christians. Yet as Sarah Palin explains her concern, you might find it’s more rational than you think. These are not merely rumors, not merely deception. And until the left acknowledges that they have at least a basis in truth, they will not be able rationally to persuade voters of the merits of their reform.
The danger of treating one’s opponents are irrational is that one cannot take their arguments seriously, and is soon reduced to ad hominem arguments. If one cannot persuade rationally, one must bully intellectually or even physically. More so, one need not listen to the irrational. What they claim upsets them is not really what upsets them. Underneath their opposition to health care reform, of course, is racism and classism and ignorance and hatred. Sigh.
4. Hillary Clinton goes to Liberia to strengthen US ties and emphasize the rights of women. Absolutely 100% in support. The press denigrates this as a “girl power” moment, but it’s more serious than that. In many African nations, women live subservient lives, are subject to genital mutilation and rape, and so on and on and on. The Obama administration is big on symbolism, granted, and small on policy. So I’d like to see some strong pressure on African nations to combat sexist attitudes, but I’m glad that Hillary is there and bringing attention to these issues.
5. This sort of quotation, from Debbie Stabenow, does little for the anthropogenic global warming movement. “Climate change is very real,” she confessed as she embraced cap and trade’s massive tax increase on Michigan industry – at the same time claiming, against all the evidence, that it would not lead to an increase in manufacturing costs or energy prices. “Global warming creates volatility. I feel it when I’m flying. The storms are more volatile. We are paying the price in more hurricanes and tornadoes.” Well, no. I call this the down-side wave effect. When you’re looking across a lake, you only see the up-side of the waves. This results in the distance across the lake looking shorter. Yet if you were on other side of the lake, you would only see the other sides of the waves. Neither side sees the full picture.
Several states just experienced the coldest July on record. Global mean temperatures are down, and so are hurricane and tornado counts. The only meaningful data in this debate is averages. Pointing to how much turbulence you experienced in your last flight over the Rockies is not a good argument, and only makes your side look foolish.
6. Supporters of Obama’s health care reform are beginning to pay a price in the polls. Specter is looking increasingly likely to loose. Grassley is backing off his previous words of support.
7. Finally, an intriguing article from Christianity Today begins with the question: “What should we think of a God who gives us sticks of dynamite to play with?”