What do Obama’s three greatest failures — health care, Afghanistan and the oil spill — all have in common? Each one was preceded by an elaborate attempt on Obama’s part to portray his decisions in non-partisan, quasi-scientific and technical terms. Each one was presented as seizing a middle-ground between unreasonable partisans on the two extremes. Of all of the masks worn by this carefully constructed persona, that of the man of reason is the most prominent. Let us look at how it works.
At least since the New Deal, progressives argued for health care as a universal right. They did not want to live in a world where their fellow citizens, or even their fellow human beings, died because they didn’t have access to doctors or medicine. Obama dropped this emphasis for one that foregrounded cost-cutting. According to him, evidence-based scientific research would be used to mandate medical decisions. The possibility that raising the level of the country’s health might cost money, not save money, was never directly considered.
Obama’s first expansion of the Afghan War occurred only a few weeks after taking office, but his second large-scale expansion was preceded by an elaborately choreographed set of seminars in which all the different options were supposedly considered. Those who still believe that this was anything more than a charade have to tell the rest of us what Obama learned from his seminars, i.e., in what way his post-seminar understanding of “the good war,” as he calls Afghanistan, differs.
As to the oil spill, Obama announced his support for offshore drilling on March 10, unfortunate timing for him as the BP spill occurred a few weeks later. In his announcement he said he would provide “order and certainty to offshore exploration and development … ensuring we are drilling in the right ways and the right places.” As to spills, he promised we would “employ new technologies that reduce the impact of oil exploration…. And we’ll be guided not by political ideology, but by scientific evidence.”
Once again, we got the message: the non-Bush, the thoughtful ratiocinator.