Politics

Barone: The Election's Winged Chariot Hurries Near Obama

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Even his hair's going white on the same schedule as all the other presidents.

In the Washington Ex, Michael Barone takes a look at President Obama's prioritizing of policy issues vs. strictly election-strategizing issues, and says he's a lot more interested in the latter. This is becoming more clear as the mid-term elections approach and the Democrats' popularity plummets, but Barone explains that Obama's habit of paying "curiously little attention to the substance of the legislation" goes back to his second month in office:

One-third of the stimulus money went to state and local governments—i.e., to public employee unions—which helped ensure that the bill would not hold down unemployment to the promised 8 percent. And the health care bill, we now learn from Health and Human Services Department actuaries, is going to increase spending rather than hold it down.

Now Obama seems to be pivoting toward legislative priorities chosen not for policy but for political reasons.

The pivot is apparent from how he has depicted the financial regulation bill before the Senate. No one disputes that some changes in financial regulation are needed. But the Democratic bill Obama is supporting would, contrary to his sound bites, enshrine rather than end the too-big-to-fail status of the giant Wall Street firms.

The bill does little to change the regulation of the ratings agencies that gave AAA imprimaturs to mortgage-backed securities that turned out to be worthless. And it does not explicitly impose higher capital requirements to clamp down on the huge leverage that made so many Wall Street firms billions and then caused them to crash and seek government bailouts.

Democrats need Republican votes to pass a bill, but have refused to make compromises so they can provoke roll call votes that they can use during campaign season to argue that Republicans are soft on Wall Street. Politics over policy.

Whole story. Although Obama's electioneering is also taking in immigration and an effort to reunite the team of "young people, African-Americans, Latinos and women who powered our victory," Barone notes that using policy debates as election-year fodder is not the same as winning elections:

Gallup reports that "very enthusiastic" voters favor Republicans 57 percent to 37 percent in congressional elections. Will attacks on Wall Street, deep-sixing the cap-and-trade bill and getting beaten on immigration change that? The Obama Democrats hope so. But I wouldn't bet heavily on it.

Back in September, Jesse Walker noted that we might be better off if Obama were the firebreathing, red-diapered, bomb-throwing radical his enemies say he is, rather than the entirely political and establishmentarian character he actually is. Obama's doubling down on Bush-era protections for Wall Street has already been covered extensively. For an extended look at the president's continuation of his predecessor's policies on national security, domestic surveillance and indefinite detention, dig the June issue of Reason, on newsstands everywhere.