THE PLANK NOVEMBER 6, 2009
Matthew Continetti's editorial in last week's issue of the Weekly Standard--"The Inevitability Myth: Health care reform is not a fait accompli"--makes the case that, despite all evidence, health care reform may not be enacted after all. (Continetti does concede that "the chances of some sort of health bill passing, at some point, are by no means negligible." So he's telling us there's a chance.)
This sort of argument is actually the signature style of the Standard. A magazine like National Review specializes in making the case for conservative ideas. The Standard's contribution is to assert over and over that Republicans are succeeding, or at least doing better than you think they are. The idea is to buck up your side and encourage them to keep fighting, in order to ward off the self-defeating psychology of losing.
It's unclear to me why the subscribers of that magazine pay money to be the subjects of a disinformation campaign. To be sure, like any stopped clock, sometimes the Standard gets it right. But there's a distinctly Pravda-esque feel to the political coverage that makes back reading an enjoyable experience. With help from Noah Kristula-Green, I pulled together some examples:
Headline: The GOP Brand: It's hot again.
The Good News: "While McCain may win the presidency, Republicans aren't likely to recapture either the Senate or the House. Their aim is to cut their losses--to fewer than 10 in the House and 3 or 4 in the Senate--and hope for better times in 2010. With their new and improved brand, they have at least a shot at this.
"It may seem far-fetched, but President Bush has helped. As Democrats have tried to tie McCain to him, Bush has mostly stayed out of the limelight."
Date: 04/28/2009 (This wasn't published in TWS, but it was written by its editor, Bill Kristol.)
Headline: Good News for Republicans!
The Good News: "I wonder if today’s Arlen Specter party switch, this time to the president’s party, won’t end up being bad for President Obama and the Democrats."
Headline: A Done Deal? Pundits prematurely declare victory for Obama.
The Good News: "This is a close race and McCain is a wily underdog. More important, perhaps, he's an underdog who is often helped by outside events. The success of the surge strategy in Iraq helped McCain win the GOP nod. Over the last month, the financial crisis and McCain's haphazard response to it all but torpedoed his chances to win the presidency. But now, thanks to a global effort, the immediate crisis seems to have passed, and the worst seems to have been avoided. Yes, we are probably in a recession, and there are tough economic times ahead. But the sense of impending economic collapse has faded. And that helps McCain."
Headline: Palin Comes Out Swinging: And keeps hope alive for McCain.
The Good News: "Sarah Palin's scintillating success in last week's vice presidential debate with Joe Biden has made her an enormous asset (again) to John McCain's bid for the presidency. ...
"McCain should feel vindicated. His choice of Palin as his running mate has turned out extraordinarily well. There's never been a national candidate like her, a mother of five from the boondocks who grins as she skewers her opponents. More important, she's given a significant gift to McCain. She's improved his chances of winning."
Headline: Off-Year Blues... But next year, Republicans might be singing a happier tune.
The Good News: "Republicans lost the governorship of Kentucky and the state senate in Virginia last week. But the elections were not as bad as they looked for Republicans. Knocked down and trampled on by Democrats in 2006, Republicans are at least back on their feet in 2007. ...
"The Republican brand. It is [sic] a far from what it once was, particularly in Virginia, but it appears to be gradually regaining respectability.
"Taxes. The tax issue--no, the anti-tax issue--wasn't a factor in the 2006 election, but it's coming back."
Headline: Cheer Up! Republicans are too gloomy.
The Good News: "In that real world, conservative policies are working fine, and liberals are providing little in the way of alternatives. The Bush tax cuts have been thoroughly vindicated: National wealth is up, unemployment is down, and the federal deficit is lower than the day the 2003 tax cuts were passed (though the Bush administration seems incapable of explaining any of this). ...
"The Democratic nominee looks likely to be either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Hillary is furiously triangulating (it's a family tradition), criticizing Obama for saying he'd meet with the Iranian mullahs and then saying she would, voting for a hawkish resolution on Iran then cosponsoring a dovish one. But even Bill's triangulation got him only 43 percent of the vote in 1992 and 49 percent in 1996--and in terms of political skills, Hillary's no Bill. Obama, for his part, seems no more experienced in dealing with serious affairs of state than Jimmy Carter did in 1975. Obama could conceivably follow in Carter's footsteps and get the nomination--but America learns from her mistakes.
"That's partly because the GOP nominee will be stronger than Gerald Ford (with all due respect to the memory of that decent man, who would have been a better president than Carter). While a half-term senator and a one-term senator fight it out for the Democratic nomination, the GOP candidates include an experienced senator who's a war hero, the most successful political chief executive in recent times, an impressive businessman/governor, and a canny lawyer/senator/actor with Washington experience and a nice, middle-American background and manner.
"Here's what's likely to happen: When the nominees are selected next year, the Republican will be behind--just as the GOP nominee trailed, at various times, in the 1980, 1988, 2000, and 2004 campaigns. Then the Republican will rally and probably win."
Headline: An Unusually Effective Minority: Bush and the congressional GOP embarrass the Democrats.
The Good News: "The biggest surprise in Washington in 2007 is who's turned out to be the strongest force in town. It's not Democrats, though they control the House and the Senate. It's not a bipartisan alliance of moderates, who often imagine themselves as pivotal but never are. And it's certainly not a conservative coalition, if only because there aren't enough conservative Democrats in Congress to fill a closet at the Heritage Foundation. The most powerful group is President Bush and congressional Republicans.
"But of course, you say. A Republican president and Republican legislators are a natural coalition. Except not in this case. After the calamitous 2006 election, there was no love lost between the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Republicans blamed Bush for losing Congress, while he and his aides felt congressional Republicans had largely brought disaster on themselves. Full-scale cooperation seemed unlikely. But it's happened. True, Bush and the Republicans aren't dominant. They're a minority, but an unusually effective one. One measure of this: At the end of 2007, there will be more American troops in Iraq than when Democrats took over Congress in January. Another: Democrats have momentum on no domestic issue, not even health care. A third: Senate Republicans last week defeated an amendment urging Bush not to pardon former White House aide Scooter Libby and won overwhelming passage of another that says terrorists jailed at Guantánamo shouldn't be transferred to U.S. soil."
Headline: Snatching Victory: Republicans can still salvage the midterm elections.
The Good News: "You could almost hear cheers of joy coming from the White House. President Bush, it seems, is back, no longer hopelessly unpopular and embattled. You could see a renewed vigor in Bush's bracing defense last week of his Iraq policy and his warning of the geopolitical disaster that would follow a pullout (or "redeployment" as Democrats call it). And you could even see it in polls. In a polling slump since Hurricane Katrina struck a year ago, Bush's job approval was back in the 40s again--42 percent in the Gallup, Hotline, Rasmussen, and CNN surveys--and rising.
"That wasn't all. The closely watched "generic ballot" suggested congressional Republicans may yet avert disaster on November 7. This measures whether voters want a Democrat or a Republican to represent them in Congress. It is a flawed yardstick and has never been reliably predictive."
Headline: The Bush Bounce: He's only part way back.
The Good News: "There's joy at the White House again and less anxiety among Republicans in Congress. The excesses of the press and Supreme Court are bringing Bush and rebellious conservatives closer together. Iraq is better off. The American economy is humming. The White House has made no harmful missteps. And the president's job approval rating is rising. ...
"At worst, Bush has bottomed out. At best, he's on his way to renewed popularity."
Headline: Don't Call It a Comeback . . . But the president is making gains toward a political recovery.
The Good News: "Presidents rarely recover from second term slumps, but President Bush may be on the verge of at least a modest upturn and perhaps a strong recovery. For sure, his plunge in job approval over the past year has been halted. He's bottomed out."
Headline: The Left's Cruelest Month: October was supposed to be the month that marked the meltdown of the Bush administration.
The Good News: "October, 2005 will turn out to be the left's cruelest month since . . . well, in a long time. A couple of weeks in, it seemed so promising. October was going to be the month that would mark the meltdown of the loathed Bush presidency. Iraq was failing, gas prices were rising, a weak Supreme Court nominee was under assault, and the White House was under siege from a special prosecutor. What more could a Bush-hater want?
"But it was a false dawn for the left. On October 15, the Iraqi people voted for the second time this year, and progress--slow and difficult--gradually became visible on the ground. The economy, it turned out, was chugging along at a 3.8 percent growth rate. Harriet Miers withdrew--and President Bush followed that foul ball with a home run in the impressive person of Judge Samuel Alito. And the special prosecutor produced only one indictment, and one that will lead no further than a trial focused on what Scooter Libby said or didn't say to three journalists."
Headline: Popularity Isn't Everything. From the June 16, 2005 Wall Street Journal: Perspective on the president's waning poll numbers.
The Good News: "Bush doesn't have the second-term blues, his administration hasn't lost its zeal, and he hasn't been troubled by scandal or the lack of a clear policy agenda. Nor is he suffering solely from his single-minded pursuit of Social Security reform. Like Schwarzenegger, the president has taken on a string of big issues--Iraq, a drastic foreign-policy overhaul, judges, plus Social Security--with predictable results. These are issues that generate political conflict. They upset settled practice, rile various institutions, stir strong opposition, and keep poll ratings low. For an activist president, lack of popularity is part of the package.
"Crossing the finish line of his presidency with record low popularity may turn out to be a sign of substantive achievement and lasting reform."