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March 29, 2013

Despite Explosion of Federal Spending, Household Income Falls Dramatically Under Obama

That's an example of a Fox Butterfield headline, a NYT reporter who used to (maybe still does) specialize in clueless headlines, like "Crime Continues Falling and Yet Prisons Keep Filling Up." (And yet?! What? No seriously that is as close as I can remember to real Fox Butterfield headline. He used to write that sort of thing, about this claimed logical disconnect between falling crime rates and soaring prison populations, once a month.)

So, anyway, despite the Federal government taking more and more money from citizens, somehow their incomes are falling.

The New York Times delivers some news so grim that it had to cook the headline to hide it: “Median Household Income Down 7.3% Since Start of Recession.”

Well, yes, but as the Times reluctantly admits in the very last paragraph of the story, 5.6 percent of that decline has occurred since the Obama “recovery” began. And median annual household income just fell by 1.1 percent in a single month – February 2013 – after the Obama “recovery” has supposedly been in progress for years. That’s after $6 trillion in deficit spending to “stimulate” the economy, supposedly for the benefit of the average household.

And yet he got reelected. Which is the take-off point for a Jon Podhoretz column arguing that the right needs to take Obama more seriously. Because a truly inept politician would have been sunk by so much failure.

It takes a truly great politician to preside over such failures and still cling to power.

To paraphrase Sun Tzu, you need to know your political antagonist if you are to prevail against him—and you need to know yourself. The truth is that Barack Obama and his liberal followers have been doing very serious work over the past four years, and the same cannot be said, alas, of far too many people who oppose them.

It’s not just the comforting delusion that he’s a golf-mad dilettante, but also the reverse-negative image of that delusion—that Obama is a not-so-secret Marxist Kenyan with dictatorial ambitions and a nearly limitless appetite for power. That caricature makes it far too easy for Obama to laugh off the legitimate criticisms of the kind of political leader he really is: a conventional post-1960s left-liberal with limited interest in the private sector and the gut sense that government must and should do more, whatever “more” might mean at any given moment.

The notion that Obama is a dangerous extremist helps him, because it makes him seem reasonable and his critics foolish. It also helps those who peddle it, because it makes them notorious and helps them sell their wares. But it has done perhaps irreparable harm to the central conservative cause of the present moment—making the case that Obama’s social-democratic statism is setting the United States on a course for disaster and that his anti-exceptionalist foreign policy is setting the world on a course for nihilistic chaos. Those are serious arguments, befitting a serious antagonist. They may not sell gold coins as quickly and as well as excessive alarmism, but they have the inestimable advantage of being true.

Barack Obama is a serious man. The professional and political right needs to be as serious as he is to make sure the Age of Obama ends with him.

I'm going to partly disagree with that. Or rather, note that Podhoretz disagrees with himself. Note the conflict between these three sentences, which follow one another.

The notion that Obama is a dangerous extremist helps him, because it makes him seem reasonable and his critics foolish. It also helps those who peddle it, because it makes them notorious and helps them sell their wares.

Okay, so we're overselling the threat Obama poses. Well what kind of threat does he pose, then?

But it has done perhaps irreparable harm to the central conservative cause of the present moment—making the case that Obama’s social-democratic statism is setting the United States on a course for disaster and that his anti-exceptionalist foreign policy is setting the world on a course for nihilistic chaos.

Oh... so the threat he merely poses is one of "disaster" and "nihilistic chaos"? Well then, I'm glad I didn't call him an extremist!

No but really I think Podhoretz is trying to say something but not saying it quite right.

First of all, if I can say this without alienating someone who is generally "on my side:" Podhoretz is more concerned than most about the Stupid Shit some conservatives say. We're all concerned with that; he's on the More Concerned end. (I'm right in the Consensus Middle, where everyone should be.)

I think he's complaining about is a sort of Mouth-Breathing Screaming that kind of alienates people.

What he doesn't concede is that that sort of thing also attracts people. Oh, it doesn't attract people like Podhoretz or the people he knows (and, it also doesn't attract me or the people I know), but to pretend that every voter is attracted by the same sort of Elevated, Moderated Tone of Approved Political Rhetoric is just a solipsism. It's just not true.

Let me tell Podhoretz something that I think either Warden or Empire of Jeff told me long ago, when I kept having meltdowns over the Stupid Shit Some Dumb People Said in a Random Rally in 2008. Paraphrased:

Dude, calm down. You can't control what everyone says and it's foolish to try. And it's silly to even think you have that kind of power. And it's absurd to think wishing will make it so. People are people. Some are bright, some are... Democrats. Some are skeptics and empiricists. Some are Born to Believe anything anyone says to them. Calm down and stop carrying on like such Nervous Nellie about what every Tom, Dick, and Harry in a nation of 300 million says or believes.

Good advice.* I try to take it. But I am arrogant and foolish, so I have lapses.

I have no doubt that the "Obama is a Socialist" line offends the sensibilities of some of the people in Podhoretz's cohort. But I also know it appeals to many other people.

Here's the other thing: I happen to know it's true. Obviously he's a socialist. He is only restrained by the political structure of the United States. There is hardly any doubt about what he'd impose if he had the power to impose it.

Now, the truthfulness of the Obama is a Socialist (or, perhaps, the kissing cousin, the Corporatist, who doesn't wish to own businesses but instead seeks to partner government with them to control their operations without explicitly owning them) doesn't mean it's a politically effective thing to say. I rather think it's not. Romney sure seemed to think it polled badly and Romney may be a lot of things, but I trust his ability to read a poll.

What's going on is that we're sort of living in the Matrix, where we sort of know some things the Public Just Isn't Ready to Hear.

And we should temper our statements with that knowledge, perhaps: That some people, like the ones I suppose Podhoretz is worried about losing, believe that The Obvious Truth is just crazypants!

And I suppose there's never really a bad time to say, "Be smart about how you politic." Message does matter. Not as much as the political establishment thinks (when all you have is a hammer...) but plainly message does matter.

But overall, while there's some truth in here, it does seem a little Concern-y.

End of the day, America is simply not an intellectual nation. It may be somewhat smart, but it's decidedly anti-intellectual, by choice, rejecting the affectations of the intellectual.

And end of the day, populism -- as boorish and as rude as it often seems to some -- has always been a powerful current of American politics.**

I do think there is some danger of a party embracing one class (and much of this is class preference, isn't it?) to the extent of alienating others. End of the day, our goal should not be to vindicate one class/cultural cohort over any others; end of the day, our goal is to get the right sort of Constitution-respecting government-limiting freedom-advancing people into positions of power and get the exact opposite people out of those positions.

* As has been frequently pointed out to me by commenters: Dwelling on such things as if they're Newsworthy and Important stories -- really? it's important that some dumb old lady at a McCain rally thinks Obama's an "Arab"? Do we really care what each individual dummy in America thinks? Since when? -- concedes the false narrative of the liberal media that such things are worth discussing.

They're not.

Or, if conservative stupidities and conspiracy theories are worth discussing, then so too must be liberal stupidities and conspiracy theories. Without insisting on that point -- by simply taking the media's line that only conservative inanities are newsworthy, or only conservative conspiracy theories are uniquely An Menace to Teh Republic -- we're simply conceding the main line of the media's manner of dishonest persuasion (which is to not confront conservative thinking head on, but to mount a relentless collateral attack by pointing out how every single conservative person is weird, dumb, or malicious in some fashion).

I'll be more than happy to discuss Birtherism with my esteemed colleagues in the media. I'll be more than happy to explain my structural-anthropology explanation of the persistence of conspiracy thinking.

So long as I'm sitting in front of Andrew Sullivan and Toure and Rosie O'Donnell and can also have a little chat about Trutherism of both the 9/11 and Trig types.

** In fact, if we're talking about the political skill of Obama, we have to notice that he's keeping his coalition together by putting a thin veneer of "elevated" tone on to demagogic populist appeals.

"Shame on us" for forgetting Newtown, indeed.

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posted by Ace at 04:58 PM

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