Count Bloomberg columnist Clive Crook among those who consider Republicans’ position in the recent federal government standoff to be an example of “insane recklessness” from people “unfit to hold public office.”
But Crook is not throwing any accolades at Democrats, either.
Why has the anti-Republican backlash, such as it is, been so mild? Here’s an obvious yet strangely neglected answer: Much of the electorate, while deploring the Tea Party’s nihilistic tactics, thinks the movement has a point.
News flash: Most Americans don’t share the Democratic Party’s instinctive devotion to higher taxes and a bigger federal government. An enraged and unhinged minority of voters apparently wants to see the liberal agenda attacked by any means necessary, even if it means paralyzing the government and wrecking the economy. But a far wider segment wants to see the progressive program at least questioned and held in check — and who will do that, if not the Republican Party?
The answer to that question could have been and should have been the president. Many Democrats criticize Obama for being too centrist and accommodating, but this is a false reading. True, Obama has often given ground under pressure, which has made him look weak. But when has he ever led the country to a workable compromise, rather than being led there? He’s always the reluctant centrist, never the centrist by conviction.
Think of health-care reform. The White House outsourced this enormous project (whose goals, by the way, I’m all for) to a Democratic Congress guided by the principle that “elections have consequences” — meaning, never mind the other side’s objections and the idea that a reform of this scope should have bipartisan support. Republicans did push back and Obama did make concessions, but the president was never in charge and never wanted to be.
Or think of fiscal policy. What has Obama done to advance the discussion that the country still needs on tax and entitlement reform? He appointed a presidential commission to advise on the issues and then, in effect, disowned it. All one can really say about the president’s fiscal preferences is that he thinks higher taxes on the rich and higher public spending are, other things equal, good ideas. Obama doesn’t stand for fiscal discipline; he has fiscal discipline thrust upon him.