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Getting It Done

February 9, 2010
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You could say that Lee Siegel is unhappy with the upcoming health-care “summit”:

On February 25, under the pretext of transcending messy politics, Obama will plunge into the stink with intensified vigor. Rather than truly delivering on his (impractical) promise to finally make the legislative process of health-care reform transparent, Obama will be daring the Republicans to start playing politics on his turf. What will be at stake is not health care—you cannot reconcile John Boehner’s weaseling demand for “step-by-step improvements” with genuine overhaul—but the fate of Democrats in the midterm elections. They will be angling to portray the Republicans as stonewalling villains; the Republicans will be angling to portray the Democrats as tyrannical monomaniacs. At the televised summit, the portraying will eclipse the talking.

The talk-show rounds he made as a candidate seem to have gone to Obama’s head. In over a year of being president, he has not once addressed the country from the Oval Office, where a president looks the people directly in the eye; rather, he averts his gaze and goes on Katie Couric’s show to announce the health-care summit. Chatting with a friendly anchor or a late-night host is, after all, so much more gratifying than doing imperfect, messy governance. Obama is Oprah with a presidential seal. Does he really think that posturing in front of the cameras is the antidote to haggling in the proverbial smoke-filled room? Does he expect to shame the Republicans at the upcoming summit by exposing their obstructionist perfidy to the American public? On the contrary. He is turning the party of no’s spectacular defiance into must-see entertainment, even as he himself is abandoning the White House for the green room.

I’m going to forgo any “dirty politics” blue streaks in order to ask this question:  is that really what you want from your President?  Maybe it’s just my inherent distrust of the human race/politicians, but I prefer my President to not be the kind of guy whose motto is “get stuff done” as part of “the business of governing”.  I get the feeling that a whole lot of leftists see the President strictly in terms of his position as a legislator.  Here’s something Jonah wrote a few years back:

Political journalists at major media outlets are biased in favor of a narrowly defined “progress.” They think the government’s job is to advance the great wheel of history forward. They’re like business reporters covering any other company. Businesses need to put out products. Companies have Tickle Me Elmos and G.I. Joes with the kung fu grip. Government has legislation and regulation, and when government fails to deliver its products, elite journalists claim “the system is broken.”

Or, as Siegel says, “the president prefers public discussion of problems to rolling up his sleeves and fixing them”.  Lyndon Johnson is often lauded as the “Greatest Legislator of All Time” because of his ability to radically expand the role of government in the 1960s.  These are the heroes of the progressives—the guys who can enact change and “fix” the country’s problems despite the objections of the opposition.  Personally, I don’t want my President to do that.  The last time something like that happened, we ended up with Medicare, which is driving a huge part of our national insolvency right now.

I don’t see “governing” as “enacting legislation”.  That seems like a gross mischaracterization of that word.  Our President is supposed to approve or disprove legislation, not drive its passage.  Those in favor of the “getting stuff done” attitude are almost never in favor of government becoming smaller.  But they see that expansion of government as “fixing problems”.  I suppose as soon as All-State is a way of life rather than a car insurer, we won’t have any problems.

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