In the Arena


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The new conservative style of commentary is, apparently, to opine on implausible rumors. So we have this from the deathless Fred Barnes:

In Washington these days, President Obama is rumored to be hoping Republicans capture the House of Representatives in the midterm election in November. There’s no evidence for this speculation, so far as I know, but it’s hardly far-fetched. If Mr. Obama wants to avert a fiscal crisis and win re-election in 2012, he needs House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be removed from her powerful post. A GOP takeover may be the only way.

Given the deficit-and-debt mess that Mr. Obama has on his hands, a Republican House would be a godsend. A Republican Senate would help, too. A Republican majority, should it materialize, could be counted on to pass significant cuts in domestic spending next year—cuts that Mrs. Pelosi and her allies in the House Democratic hierarchy would never countenance.

The delusional hilarity of these paragraphs is staggering–and reminiscent of John Podhoretz’s fantasy account of the last meeting between Netanyahu and Obama. Let me count the ways:

1. There is no way the President is rooting for a Republican takeover of the Congress, given the extremist, recalcitrant path the party has taken in recent years. The rumor that Barnes cites is nonsense.

2. The Republicans have shown no–I mean, zero–interest in cutting the budget in the past. They didn’t do it under Reagan; they didn’t do it under Bush Junior. Quite the opposite, they exploded the budget deficit with wars and tax cuts. The exception was the Clinton era, when Ross Perot’s success changed the political landscape for a few years, making budget-cutting cool. But the Republicans’ usual modus operandi is to take really courageous stands against federal funding for the arts–a huge program!–or federally-funded abortion…overseas, or earmarks (while sneaking their own pet projects into Christmas tree bills), but when a real budget-cutting proposal comes along like Rep. Paul Ryan’s honest but ridiculous Medicare evisceration, they run for the hills.

3. There ain’t all that much to cut. Really. The discretionary domestic spending that Barnes talks about is chump change. The real money, as everyone knows, is in defense and entitlements. Some leaders of the Tea Party movement, to their credit, have raised the possibility of cutting the defense budget (which, in truth, is what the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would like to do but can’t because of Congress, especially the sun belt Republicans with defense plants). Social Security can be fixed fairly easily, and Barnes is right in this case–it’s Democrats who oppose some of the more plausible fixes, like raising the retirement age (although Republicans have demagogued the essential Clinton-initiated component of taxing the benefits of wealthy Social Security recipients). And there is Medicare, where the real solution–moving recipients out of fee-for-service and into managed care–is about as popular as the oil spill.

So Barnes is peddling from an empty sack here–and, assuming an even rudimentary knowledge of the federal budget on his part, he knows it. The fact that the Journal would print such twaddle as opinion and not the utterly cynical propaganda that it is shows the marked disintegration of respect for coherent thought at that Temple of Right-Thinking. It would be nice to have an actual conversation about this stuff, but it just seems impossible.