Michael Gerson, who liked George W. Bush and his notion of preventative war, does not like Barack Obama. That's fine. I don't know why the Washington Post has hired him to say as much however. Gerson, Bush's former speechwriter, is a party operative, not a disinterested observer. So when he remarks on how disappointing Obama's Presidency has been, you know something has gone right for Obama. I remark on this not because I have it in for conservatives. On the contrary, I'm keenly interested in actual conservative argument. It's a shame, I think, that the Post hires such hacks (the same would go for Democratic party hacks, if there were any).
In 1950, Lionel Trilling could write, "In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition." In 1980, as the Reagan revolution was starting, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan concluded, "Of a sudden, the GOP has become the party of ideas."
Where now is the intellectual center of gravity — the thrill of innovation, the ideological momentum — in American politics? Not in the party of Obama.
This failure of imagination was on full display during Barack Obama's address to Congress. In a moment that demanded new policy to cut an ideological knot, or at least new arguments to restart the public debate, Obama saw fit to provide neither. His health speech turned out to be an environmental speech, devoted mainly to recycling. On every important element of his health proposal, he chose to double down and attack the motives of opponents. (Obama was the other public official who talked of a "lie" that evening.) Concerns about controlling health costs, the indirect promotion of abortion and the effect of a new entitlement on future deficits were dismissed but not answered. On health care, Obama takes his progressivism pure and simplistic.
This, I think, is a specious allegation of fallacy–Obama did attack the motives of his opponents, after pointing out, in the cases mentioned above by Gerson, that they have lied relentlessly about the content of the bills working their way through the system. When someone, such as Gerson and the people he sophistically defends, distorts the simple and obvious facts open to everyone's inspection, it is well justified to wonder about their motives. I wonder, indeed, about Gerson's motives in writing such silliness. He doesn't, you'll notice, even bother to justify either (1) the allegation that Obama was lying or (2) that he attacked anyone's motives–and not their facts. This kind of sophistry, I think, is worse than lying. Gerson, or at least the Post (I know, don't laugh) ought to know better.
Truly hilarious, however, is the idea that Obama is some kind of wicked hardcore lefty, taking his "progressivism pure and simplistic" when in fact he (1) spent the entire summer (not on vacation) trying to negotiate with Republicans and (2) in the very speech in question brought together elements from John McCain and George W.Bush. Gerson writes:
This is the most consistent disappointment of Obama's young term. Given a historic opportunity to occupy the political center, to blur ideological lines, to reset the partisan debate through unexpected innovation, Obama has taken the most tired, most predictable agenda in American politics — the agenda of congressional liberalism — and made it his own. Elected on the promise to transcend old arguments of left and right, Obama has systematically reinforced them on domestic issues. A pork-laden stimulus. A highly centralized health reform. Eight months into Obama's term, American politics is covered in the cobwebs of past controversies. Obama has supporters, but he has ceased trying for converts.
This should surprise no one. Obama did not rise on Bill Clinton's political path — the path of a New Democrat, forced to win and govern in a red state. Obama was a conventional, congressional liberal in every way — except in his extraordinary abilities. His great talent was talent itself, not ideological innovation. And given the general Republican collapse of 2006 to 2008 — rooted in the initial unraveling of Iraq, the corruption of the Republican congressional majority and the financial meltdown — Obama did not need innovation to win. Only ability and the proper tone.
Not even close. Notice, however, how Gerson does not bother anywhere in the piece to justify his whacky assertions. It's as if he did not even see the speech.