It’s been a little while since I’ve checked in with some of “the usual suspects” in the world of Beltway punditry, so I thought it was time to review the latest offering from Richard Cohen of the WaPo; if his column today is any indication, I can see that I haven’t missed much.
What passes for Cohen’s argument here is that, somehow, the doings of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic congress have somehow co-opted the early days of the Obama presidency (yeah, I know – I guess he has to pay the bills too)…
The tale of two political figures was written one day last week when Pelosi went down into the well of the House and pitched the bill to heavily tax the bad people at AIG who received big bonuses. Using the tax code to exact punishment for political reasons is both bad policy and bad law -- why not put gun-shop owners and cigarette manufacturers in the 100 percent bracket? -- but it hurtled through Pelosi's branch of the government with nary a hearing and few discouraging words, and only the mildest suggestion from the president that the bill was really a dumb idea.You can argue about the merits of the proposal by Michigan Dem Congressman Gary Peters to apply a 60 percent surtax on bonuses over $10,000 to any company in which the U.S. government has a 79 percent or greater equity stake in the company, as noted here. If nothing else, I think it’s a terrific starting point for a discussion about how to recover what is owed to us by those criminals at AIG, even if Peters’ proposal doesn’t make it to Obama’s desk, where I’m sure it would be vetoed anyway (to say nothing of even passing out of Congress).
However, let’s please dispense with this argument that the tax code in this country is somehow sacrosanct, OK? This tells us that The Sainted Ronnie R, in the process of applying his two notorious tax cuts, lowered the high-end rate first from 70 to 50 percent, and then from 50 to 28 (actually, as Wikipedia tells us, the authors of the second cut were Democrats Richard Gephardt and Bill Bradley, both of whom should have known better – exactly the kind of Third Way/DLC/accommodationist/triangulationist garbage that ensured Democratic election losses for years until Dr. Dean came along and decided to compete in all 50 states).
And when those rates were lowered, I seriously don’t recall any protest from Cohen; indeed, this Cohen column from 1996 called the 1981 Reagan tax cut “probably the single most important legislation of the decade,” a particularly laughable comment when, as noted here, Reagan implemented the largest tax increase in U.S. history the following year, a fact happily forgotten by the “Reagan revisionists,” though noted by Will Bunch in his great new book on the subject (I know I’ve plugged it a lot, but it should be required reading, IMHO).
Anyway, back to Cohen today…
The president is slipping in the polls. Last month, he had a 64 percent approval rating. This month it was 59 percent, but more to the point, the National Journal's astute Charlie Cook noticed that political independents were trending Republican. Some of this was bound to happen, but some of it is a consequence of Obama remaining undifferentiated, defined more by allies like Pelosi than by enemies like the GOP.To begin, I don’t recall any earmarks in the stimulus bill, so I don’t know how Cohen claims Obama didn’t “draw the line” there. And “school reform”? He’s been president for two months and three days, for God’s sake! And the Pelosi-Gingrich comparison is so laughable that it doesn’t deserve a serious response, particularly when Cohen doesn’t even bother to support his own argument.
In foreign policy, where a president is monarch, Obama has been a change agent. But in domestic matters, Obama's image has become muddled. He remains more popular than credible. Where does he draw the line? Not at tax delinquency, clearly, and not at earmarks, clearly, and not at real school reform, which he advocates but has done little to implement. He sometimes says he's angry, as with the AIG bonuses, but it's a parental pose designed to fool children and is not a genuine emotion. Obama eschews symbolic politics.
This is not the case with Pelosi. She is a strong speaker of the House, both an ideologue and a pragmatist, who cherishes her prerogatives and guards her turf -- more like Newt Gingrich than previous Democratic speakers -- but her message is hardly one of change. It's early yet, but already she's left her mark on the government -- and, in the process, all over Obama's image.
So instead of becoming consumed with Cohen’s spin here, let’s look at some numbers from the reality-based community, shall we?
However, I’m sure that in the days and weeks ahead, Cohen will find a way to conjure up a narrative that this is all symptomatic of Obama’s “weakness” (at least the author can definitely be considered an expert on “the stale air of business as usual”).
This tells us that this country doesn’t fundamentally blame Obama for the AIG mess, though that’s not to say that it couldn’t become a millstone as time drags on (until today, though, the markets seemed to be responding for the “warts and all” approach from Geithner/Summers, privatizing the profit for the “banksters,” as Atrios so aptly calls them, while socializing the risk, as usual). This shows some polling ending last week with numbers that have barely budged concerning Pelosi, Obama and congressional Dems and Republicans as a whole (as well as Reid, Boehner and McConnell individually). This, however, does tell us that Obama’s support among Appalachian white voters as well as older, middle class voters continues to be a source of concern (much as it was during the Democratic primary when these people voted for Hillary Clinton). Finally, this tells us what kind of ratings the Obama/Steve Kroft interview received on “60 Minutes” on Sunday (at least people are still tuning him in).