Remember our ideologue discussion? What we've seen over the past year and a half is what happens when a radical ideologue -- or a whole bunch of 'em -- gets elected to office. They don't care what the American people think. They don't care what the ramifications of their actions will be. They only care about implementing their agenda.
Democrats at Ramming Speed
The White House wants to pass as much legislation as possible before losing its big majorities, no matter how unpopular its proposals are.
By FRED BARNES
President Reagan had a sign on his desk that said, "It's amazing how much you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit." If President Obama had a sign, it would say, "It's amazing how much you can accomplish if you don't care what the public thinks."
Washington has never been held in lower esteem by Americans than it is today. Yet those in control of Washington—President Obama and congressional Democrats—are bent on enacting a series of sweeping domestic policy changes this year that have one thing in common: They are unpopular, in whole or in part.
This is unprecedented and a bit weird too. A revival of civility and an end to the ugly political polarization in Washington—goals stressed by Mr. Obama in his presidential campaign and again last Saturday in a speech at the University of Michigan—won't be furthered by passage of an unpopular agenda. A more likely result is years of partisan resentment and bitter fighting over efforts by Republicans to repeal the unwanted policies.
It's true that presidents have imposed foreign and national-security policies despite popular objections. President George W. Bush did so in 2007 when he ordered a "surge" of troops into Iraq along with a new counterinsurgency strategy. President Jimmy Carter and the U.S. Senate defied public opinion in 1978 when they gave up American control of the Panama Canal. There are countless more examples.
But I can't think of a single major domestic initiative that became law in recent decades without public approval. Even the much-maligned Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988, which was repealed in 1989, was reasonably popular when it passed Congress the year before.
Energy and climate legislation dubbed "cap and trade," immigration reform, a value-added tax (VAT) to narrow the budget deficit, and Sen. Chris Dodd's financial reform bill (now on the Senate floor)—all are unpopular in one way or another. Mr. Obama and Democrats are determined to pass them anyway.
The model for such a strategy is the health-care legislation—ObamaCare—enacted in March. For months nearly every opinion poll found either a solid majority or a plurality of Americans opposed to the bill. And it was assumed to be dead after Republican Scott Brown campaigned against it and won a special election in January for the Massachusetts Senate seat of the late Edward M. Kennedy.
Mr. Obama and Democrats in Congress refused to give up. Instead, they relied on their one irreducible source of power in Washington: overwhelming Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Democrats control the Senate 59 to 41, the House by 254 to 177 (with four vacancies). They passed the health-care bill in March with zero Republican support.
Now they're trying to win approval of Sen. Dodd's financial-reform legislation with as little Republican help as possible, and thus as little compromising as they can get away with. Rather than encourage negotiations on a bipartisan bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is attempting to crack Republican unity. But three successful filibusters, supported by all Republican senators, prevented Democrats from moving forward, and now Sen. Dodd is negotiating with Republican Sen. Richard Shelby on changes to the bill. Republicans haven't ruled out another filibuster if Sen. Dodd refuses to make significant concessions.
The presence of big majorities now and the likelihood they'll vanish in the midterm election in November have spurred Mr. Obama and Democrats to pursue their entire agenda in 2010. Republicans are expected to cut deeply into the Democratic majorities, possibly capturing one or both houses. This, to put it mildly, would make it extremely difficult to gain approval of their very liberal agenda in the next Congress.
Democrats, I suspect, have made a quite rational calculation about the election. It's baked in the cake that they'll lose seats, but how many more might they lose if they pass a series of unpopular bills? Maybe only a few. Given this, there's a case for going all out this year, which is exactly what they're doing.
It won't be easy. While stiffer regulation of Wall Street is popular, the Dodd bill lacks the two things the public wants most of all in financial reform—elimination of the phenomenon of banks "too big to fail" and the prospect of more government bailouts. Their absence has given Republicans an appealing talking point.
Though virtually nothing about cap and trade has public support, Sen. Reid is undeterred. But the Democratic bill has suffered two recent setbacks. Sen. Lindsey Graham has withdrawn his sponsorship, and the plan to attract skeptical senators by authorizing more offshore oil drilling has been jeopardized by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Obama administration has a fallback plan. Since CO2 has been declared a dangerous pollutant, the Environmental Protection Agency could, on its own, set a cap on emissions, a step bound to prompt angry Republican protests.
The president has vacillated on his desire for immigration reform this year, nor are top administration officials active in pushing for a bill. Nonetheless, Democrats last week drafted a "white paper" outlining an immigration bill that would be vulnerable to attacks for adopting an "amnesty" to allow illegal immigrants already in the country to stay. That alone would make the bill unpopular. And the administration is also bucking public opinion by threatening to file suit against Arizona's new immigration law.
Recently, the president and his allies have been talking up a VAT without quite endorsing it. (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has urged adoption of a VAT.) It has the political advantage of being an indirect tax, imposing a levy at every level of production. It's a hidden sales tax with the potential of raising an enormous amount of revenue.
It's unpopular, but one can imagine Democrats might seek to enact it. The president's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which began its work last week, is required to submit a plan for serious deficit reduction by Dec. 1, four weeks after the November election.
Its recommendations are non-binding, but a lame duck Congress would be in position to take them up, including a possible VAT. Should Democrats suffer a landslide defeat, their large majorities would still be in place for the lame-duck session. What would Democrats who'd been defeated for re-election have to lose by voting for a VAT? Not much.
This scenario isn't as far-fetched as you might think. In a speech at a Democratic reception in Boston on April 1, Mr. Obama boasted of his willingness to do the unpopular: "If you govern by pundit and polls, then you lose sight of why you got into public service in the first place," he said. His "job," he said, isn't to "husband my popularity [and] make sure that I'm not making waves. . . . So I resolved to do not necessarily what was popular, but what I thought was right."
Does Mr. Obama think a VAT would be "right"? Take a guess.
They're betting the farm that the changes they're making now will not be rolled back when they suffer the inevitable losses at the next election or two, and that these changes will become permanent. If they accomplish that, they win.
That's why it is so important to not only vote these destroyers out of office, but to replace them with people who recognize this situation and who are committed to roll back these changes. It is only by returning America to her founding principles that we will survive and thrive as a global leader with peace, prosperity, and security.
There's my two cents.