Jonathan Chait

Sanity Vs. Insanity At The Weekly Standard

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I recently cited Andrew Ferguson's great review, in the Weekly Standard, which notes how, in order to vilify President Obama as an extremist, conservatives have begun to sing the praises of the once-reviled Bill Clinton. Ferguson writes:

I remember a press conference in 1993 got up by Empower America, a now-forgotten Republican think tank. The purpose was to mark the end of the first year of the Clinton administration. A murderers row of famous-for-Washington conservatives took turns denouncing the Democrats who had seized the White House after a dozen years of Republican benevolence. The upshot of the press conference was tersely summarized by Jack Kemp, a man not known for terseness: President Clinton, Kemp said, had brought to Washington something it had never seen before, the “first frankly left-wing administration in history.” ...

Now it’s 2010, and among his former enemies, Clinton is enjoying a Truman-like renaissance. Even such sweaty anti-Clinton paranoiacs as the investigative journalist Christopher Ruddy and the newspaper proprietor Richard Mellon Scaife have decided he wasn’t so bad after all. It’s almost enough to make you forget the insanity that gripped Clinton’s political opponents. Kemp didn’t know the half of it! Throughout the nineties I heard mainstream Republicans describe the president as a shameless womanizer and a closeted homosexual, a cokehead and a drunk, a wife beater and a wimp, a hick and a Machiavel, a committed pacifist and a reckless militarist who launched unnecessary airstrikes in faraway lands to distract the public’s attention from all of the above. ...

So what happened? How did the left-wing, coke-snorting Manchurian candidate become the fondly remembered Democrat-you-could-do-business-with“good old Bill,” in Sean Hannity’s phrase? 

Barack Obama is what happened. The partisan mindleft-wing or right-wing, Republican or Democratis incapable of maintaining more than one oversized object of irrational contempt at a time. When Obama took his place in the Republican imagination, his titanic awfulness crowded out the horrors of Bad Old Bill

A fine analysis. Meanwhile, in that same issue of the Weekly Standard, here is Matthew Continetti's lead editorial:

Once upon a time there was a Democratic president who, despite his faults, championed the power of markets, technology, and the global economy. He spoke about building “a bridge to the 21st century.” He ratified major trade agreements like NAFTA and the WTO. He supported balanced budgets and signed into law a tough welfare reform. He cut the capital gains tax. He boasted that government spending as a share of the economy fell on his watch. He went so far as to call himself (privately) an Eisenhower Republican.

When Bill Clinton was raising taxes on the rich as part of his Eisenhower Republican plan to reduce the deficit -- and it was in 1993 when Clinton called himself an Eisenhower Republican, not after 1994, as Continetti suggests -- Republicans were not praising him as a sensible moderate.

Another good example of the kind of right-wing hysteria diagnosed by Ferguson can be found in another article in the same issue, in which Andrew B. Wilson tries to make the case that Obama is urging young people to abandon capitalism:

Talking of the future as if it were a game of blackjack, the president says he is prepared to “double down” on education and an oil-free future. 

He makes promises: easy money in the form of more low-interest college loans for young people; early forgiveness of those loans for those who forswear the private sector and go into public sector jobs; the ability of campus hangers-on to stay on their parents’ health care plans until the age of 26; and the realization of his vision of a “clean energy future,” which is supposed to create “hundreds of thousands of new American jobs by 2012” and enable Team USA to surge ahead of India, China, and other rapidly growing nations in international competitiveness.

Stripped to the essentials, all this is to say: Hey, why be in any hurry to get a job in this economy? You’ve probably got it pretty good where you are. But if you have to work, you’ll find the best jobs in the public sector and in other parts of the economy (energy, health care, the environment) that we have brought under government control.

Uh, what? Let's run through the reasoning here again. Obama has promised to reduce interest rates on college loans by cutting out expensive middlemen, provide some loan forgiveness for students who enter less lucrative professions like teaching or the military, and is investing in creating a (private) clean energy industry. And the message of these policies is... young people shouldn't get jobs?

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