Andrew Sullivan: Tea Party opposes Obama because he’s black
Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan, a conservative turned liberal, wrote a post criticising the Tea Party movement for standing by while George W. Bush broke the bank only to protest Barack Obama for his spending measures. According to Sullivan, this isn’t based on disagreement with Obama for his big spending ways, rather the fact that he is black:
[T[he Tea Party, utterly indifferent to massive spending in good times by a Republican, had a conniption at a black Democrat’s modest measures to limit the worst downturn since the 1930s. Conniption isn’t really he right word: this was a cultural and political panic in the face of a president who was advocating what were only recently Republican policies: tax cuts, Romneycare on a national level, cap-and-trade, a W-style immigration reform, and a relentless war on Jihadism. They reached back to a time, when there were only three kinds of Americans - native, white and slaves. They even wore powdered wigs.
While I don’t necessarily disagree that conservative opposition to immigration reform is based on more than public policy, I completely disagree that the Tea Party movement opposes Obama’s policies just because he is black.
I don’t disagree that Bush was a fiscal nightmare, and it’s my belief that he set the Republican Party back several years. And shortly after the Tea Party movement started in early 2009, I criticized them for not calling out Bush’s spending spree.
But Sullivan’s contention that the policies Obama pursued when he came into office were “modest measures” is hard not to laugh at. The course taken by Obama is perhaps the most radical since the hard-left interventions in the economy taken during the Great Depression by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Of course, now we realize that these interventions prolonged that depression by seven years.
And with Obama’s Keynesian-minded interventions, we’ve seen unemployment remain high because businesses scared to invest due to uncertainty in the economy. Obama has proposed a number of new regulations aimed directly at the financial industry to show that he is “doing something” to prevent another downturn like we saw in 2008. And then, of course, you have ObamaCare, a fiscal monstrosity that may not even survive review by the Supreme Court due to the constitutional challenges over the individual mandate.
But to think that a government can enact rules, regulations or other policies without causing some harm reminds me of a post I wrote last summer, responding to Ben Bernanke being puzzled about the state of the economy despite all of the “modest” measures taken, as Sullivan would have us believe:
[Central planners] believe they can create an economy and make it do what they want it to do or “stimulate” it when it struggles. The shocking revelation, at least to The Ben Bernank, that central planners may have not been able to revive a struggling economy, despite bailouts to rent-seeking businesses deemed “too big to fail,” including financial institutions and automakers, massive spending; I’m reminded of truism from F.A. Hayek, a Nobel Prize winning economist, from his book, The Fatal Conceit:
The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.
That’s not to say that Bernanke is not a smart guy, but for someone with such knowledge and understanding of the follies of Great Depression-era economic intervention, he is making mistakes based on the same premise; that government, in this case through monetizing debt through Quantitative Easing, jacking up tax rates and spending massive amounts of money can drive demand and somehow guide an economy back into prosperity. They might as well be chasing unicorns.
It’s not really that hard to understand, but unfortunately to Sullivan, it’s about race, not actual or genuine concern about the economy, four straight years of trillion dollar budget deficits, or the $16.7 trillion national debt.
But Sullivan really shouldn’t be pointing fingers, lest his own hypocrisy be thrown in his face. Yesterday, Conor Friedersdorf noted that Sullivan, who criticized Bush for his affronts to civil liberties, has given Obama, who may indeed be worse, a pass on that particular issue:
Earlier this week, I took issue with the way Sullivan covers the president. He was characteristically willing to link, excerpt and engage my argument, which I appreciate. The importance of the subject and my sense that he’s missing my point make it necessary to go one more round. Given his eloquence and capacity for effecting change there’s no one I’d rather persuade to put an even higher priority on protecting civil liberties and restraining executive power.
So here goes.
As I wrote in my original post, “Sullivan is one of the few Obama boosters with the reflexive humility to regularly criticize him on narrow issues and to air dissents from others who criticize him,” but I wish he gushed a bit less about the man, because the significant promises that he’s broken, the issues on which Sullivan and I agree that he’s dead wrong, and the priority that journalists ought to put on holding leaders accountable make Obama unworthy of exalted praise.
There’s a distinction between saying a politician is the best option among the available choices and that he is a satisfactory leader. To me, anyone who properly values civil liberties can’t say the latter about Obama.
Sullivan titles his response “Pressuring the President,” and begins with the phrase, “Conor Friedersdorf claims that I’m not doing it very much.” But that isn’t actually the claim in my complaint, nor is my argument answered by the balance of Sullivan’s post — a long, link-rich account of all the times Sullivan has harshly criticized Obama on all of the issues that I mentioned. To state it explicitly one more time, Sullivan does write individual posts that criticize the president in terms every bit as strong as I or any other civil liberties loving opponent could ask.
After going through some of Sullivan’s criticisms of Obama, which included saying he should be tried for war crimes and calling him out for his treatment of medicinal marijuana patients, Friedersdorf writes:
[H]ow can you think Obama is an accessory to war crimes who should be prosecuted for his illegal behavior… and that he hasn’t yet had a scandal to his name? How can you think that he willfully lied in his campaign pledges on civil liberties… and that he is a man of praiseworthy integrity, which was “reaffirmed” by his changing stand on gay marriage? How can you think his drug policy is so bad that it causes sickness and death - so bad that his supporters ought to stop cooperating with his fundraising appeals - and that he deserves to be running for a “triumphant” reelection?
How can you explicitly articulate all the ways Obama has been as bad or even worse than the Bush Administration, which you regard as criminal and catastrophic, and regularly end Obama posts with “know hope”? Some of these apparent contradictions would make sense coming from a commentator who thought that civil liberties aren’t particularly important; that drug policy is an afterthought; that executive power excesses don’t really pose a huge threat to our system of government; that torture is best forgotten; but Sullivan most emphatically doesn’t subscribe to any of those characterizations. He knows full well that those failures imperil the American project.
And then every time he writes an essay on Obama’s triumphs he glosses over them as if they’re small failings. In the next Obama essay, why not lead with the failures on civil liberties, drugs, executive power, war, whistleblowers, spying, and more? Why not give them prominence that accords with the importance The Dish ascribes to them? And relegate achievements like being more sane than many in the GOP and killing bin Laden and the auto industry bailout to the “to be sure” paragraph?
It is uncomfortable to fully confront the reality that the candidate whose reelection you support favors a lot of immoral policies; that he has broken a lot of laws; that he has helped to cover up torture; that he has helped to make potentially catastrophic policies like indefinite detention part of the bipartisan consensus; that he lied to his supporters on various issues; that he is the lesser of two evils. But that is the inescapable conclusion of posts that Sullivan himself has written. Given that fact, the appropriate tone to take while writing in favor of Obama’s reelection is uncomfortable, grudging support, not soaring praise and admonitions to more fully appreciate his transcendent character. You can think that civil liberties are extremely important, or that Obama is a praiseworthy man of honor who deserves our respect, esteem and gratitude, but not both.
Admittedly, I used to be a fan of Sullivan’s, but his drift left-ward has left me at odds with much of what he writes these days. There are still occasional moments of clarity, but there are few and far between.
I don’t disagree with him that the Tea Party, or more directly speaking, the conservative movement, were absent during the Bush years. That’s evident, and I’ve said that myself, as noted above. But people in glasshouses, like Andrew Sullivan, shouldn’t throw stones. His own hypocrisy has been noted, but he’ll still go on pretending that President Obama is the best thing that has ever happened to the United States.