Obama’s Self-Interest Lies With the American People’s; the Republican Party’s Self-Interest Does Not.


By Joe Campbell
March 23rd, 2010

[digg-reddit-me]Andrew Sprung – who I read semi-regularly thanks to links from Andrew Sullivan – sees Obama’s success with health care as part of “a recognizable pattern in Obama’s approach to setbacks – pause, regroup, rethink, collect new input, amend and re-present plans, and set a deadline.” You see this in Obama’s response to the loss in New Hampshire, to the Reverend Wright scandal, to Sarah Palin’s selection, to Afghanistan, to being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and now to health care.

But Sprung points out another factor that in some way should motivate some more skeptical voters to trust Obama a bit more:

Another key strategic element for Obama– as a matter of policy rather than politics — was emphasizing cost control at the expense of more generous coverage expansion. That decision reflects I think a fundamental calculation that only effective cost control will enable lasting coverage expansion — and more broadly, only evident progress in deficit reduction will enable a domestic agenda that includes new government initiatives. [my emphasis]

To put it another way: If my livelihood depends on the amount of anger people have towards the government, then I don’t have much incentive to make the government do a good job. Irresponsible governance proves my point. As a pundit or legislator, I have the incentive to make government look as bad as possible.

On the other hand, if my livelihood depends on whether or not I solve a problem, or at least make things a bit better, then I have every incentive to use every tool at my disposal to make sure that happens. Responsible governance then proves my point. As a pundit or legislator, I have every incentive to fix the problem, or failing that, make it look like it’s being fixed.

Obama, aiming for historical achievements, has every incentive to accurately diagnose the problem and take steps to fix it – even for purely selfish reasons. If his reform bankrupts America and undermines our power, he won’t be remembered kindly. The Republicans, aiming for 2010, have every incentive to “throw their bodies on the gears” to destroy the system – because in destroying the system they not only get short-term gains but ideological traction.

(Thomas Frank explored this last idea at some length in his book, The Wrecking Crew.)

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