Monday, November 23, 2009

biting your own ass

Rick Perlstein's Nixonland is a masterwork. It draws taut lines between the middle of the last century century and the topography of the political landscape today; it explains how we got into this partisan madness, and -- I believe -- it just might predict the future. Perlstein recounts the shocked aftermath of liberals in the wake of Nixon's Checkers speech, in which Nixon managed to cast himself as a man of the hardworking people, and the Democrats of the party of the elite:
Liberal intellectuals [...] saw themselves as tribunes of the people, Republicans as the people's traducers. Liberals had written the New Deal social and labor legislation that let ordinary Americans win back a measure of economic security. Then liberals helped lead a war against fascism, a war conservatives opposed, and then worked to create, in the postwar reconversion, the consumer economy that built the middle class, a prosperity for ordinary laborers unprecedented in the history of the world. Liberalism had done that. Now history had caught them in a bind: with the boom they had helped build, ordinary laborers were becoming ever less reliably downtrodden, vulnerable to appeal from the Republicans.
Now consider this nugget from Saturday's New York Times:
...with roughly a quarter of the stimulus money out the door after nine months, the accumulation of hard data and real-life experience has allowed more dispassionate analysts to reach a consensus that the stimulus package, messy as it is, is working.

The legislation, a variety of economists say, is helping an economy in free fall a year ago to grow again and shed fewer jobs than it otherwise would. Mr. Obama’s promise to “save or create” about 3.5 million jobs by the end of 2010 is roughly on track, though far more jobs are being saved than created, especially among states and cities using their money to avoid cutting teachers, police officers and other workers.

“It was worth doing — it’s made a difference,” said Nigel Gault, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, a financial forecasting and analysis group based in Lexington, Mass.

Mr. Gault added: “I don’t think it’s right to look at it by saying, ‘Well, the economy is still doing extremely badly, therefore the stimulus didn’t work.’ I’m afraid the answer is, yes, we did badly but we would have done even worse without the stimulus.”
Granted, it's not quite the triumphalist America of 1952, but with many politicians calling this President Obama's recession, you can bet that should a recovery begin the economy's slow ascent to prosperity, it will be very hard for the White House to claim credit where credit is due.

It's a tight historical cycle in the United States: when people need help -- not mild assistance, but wet-your-pants-end-of-the-world help, they run to the political left, only to flee back to the right and decry freeloaders once the worst has passed. The 44th President could be in danger of getting the Churchill treatment: thanks for saving the world, now take a hike.

Thankfully, it is obvious by now that the President is no fool. Anticipating the inevitable whiplash-inducing about-face, there are reports that beginning next year, the White House will anticipate the curve and transform from a New Deal outfit to a Reaganesque budget hawk's nest (except that Reagan really wasn't, but whatever).

The President's parenting skills are more necessary to his job than we ever imagined: what more does the American electorate resemble than a impulse-driven toddler?

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