The real message of the Scott Brown victory

January 29, 2010

Via John Ellis:

The answer, I think, is that whatever pivot is made will be irrelevant. The fact is President Obama doesn’t have the luxury of proposing an agenda. Agendas (or at least, agendas as we have come to think of them) are for people who have money. The United States is broke. And the debt gets worse by the day.

Therefore, President Obama’s job is to get us out of debt (or start us down the path toward that end). This job would be difficult in the best of times. President Obama has to do it in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s. He has to do it in the midst of two wars in regions perpetually hostile to foreign influence. And he has to do it in the midst of a global recession so severe that it now threatens what erudite commentators call the “social cohesion” of our allies and trading partners around the world.

That being the case, and I think it is inarguably the case, President Obama will never be successful until he accepts the assignment that history has given him. No one (anywhere) believes for one moment that he can add 30-35 million people to the health insurance rolls and not increase (sharply) the cost of health insurance. President Obama has been peddling this fable for months now and it has only served to make him look either (a) naive, or (b) utterly cynical. No one believes that “cap and trade” legislation is anything like an urgent priority at this time. No one believes that securing the Olympics for Chicago in 2016 is an urgent use of the President’s time. No one believes that President Obama deserved or should have accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. The reason that Obama has seen his approval rating fall sharply is that people think he’s not doing his job.

His job is to get the country on a path to fiscal sustainability and to defeat (as much as humanly possible) those who seek to put nuclear weapons in our cities and detonate them in time for the evening news. His job, more accurately, is to cut costs, delay benefits, right-size government programs, rethink military and diplomatic strategies, re-focus our war efforts, all while rebuilding (or expanding) intellectual and physical infrastructure for the years ahead. And he must do all this while devising new strategies for jump-starting wealth creation. It’s more than enough agenda for anyone, even someone with President Obama’s admirable self-confidence and perhaps grandiose self-esteem.

“Stop spending money you don’t have” was the real message of the Massachusetts Senate election that vaulted Senator-elect Brown from the back benches of one of the most useless political institutions in America (the Massachusetts State Senate) onto the front page of The New York Times. “Do your job,” was the other, direct message to President Obama.


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What makes you think Obama cares whether the country is broke or not?

Posted by proreason | Report as abusive

Haha. For that matter…what makes you think he cares about this country?

Posted by Miltdog | Report as abusive

He first have to wash all the Marxism out of his skull. Not likely.

Posted by ahem | Report as abusive

I am SICK AND TIRED of people saying Obama will be a one term president! Let’s start talking about making him a 1/2 TERM president! The constitution says he may be impeached for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”. I’d say he and the democrats have committed ALL OF THESE OFFENSES in the last year!

Posted by Lee | Report as abusive

It’s painful for John Ellis and James Pethokoukis to admit, but there has been zero net job creation since December 1999. No previous decade going back to the 1940s had job growth of less than 20 percent. Economic output rose at its slowest rate of any decade since the 1930s as well. Middle-income households made less in 2008, when adjusted for inflation, than they did in 1999 — and the number is sure to have declined further during a difficult 2009. The Bush years were the first period of falling median incomes since figures were first compiled in the 1960s.
And the net worth of American households — the value of their houses, retirement funds and other assets minus debts — has also declined when adjusted for inflation, compared with sharp gains in every previous decade since data were initially collected in the 1950s.
This was a disastrous decade that has lead economists and policymakers to fundamentally rethink the underpinnings of the nation’s growth.
The authors of this article also ignore the fact that not only did the Bush administration and GOP policymakers inherit a sweet deal at the start of the decade, but also that Republicans on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue were able to implement just about every economic policy they wanted in the ensuing years. Those policies failed spectacularly — but the discredited agenda nevertheless remains the foundation of the Republican economic philosophy in the new decade.
It’s why conservatism needs to rethink its economic policies. But the startling fact remains that conservatives intend to do no such thing. Ask every Republican lawmaker on the Hill and they’ll agree that the economic policies they embraced in the last decade are no different than those they intend to embrace in the new decade — the only difference being their stated desire to see the government invest even less in the coming years.

Posted by getplaning | Report as abusive

Evict the Guy, he has no intention of righting Americans

Posted by worldview | Report as abusive

Obama’s top two issues, cost control and the health bill are terrible for jobs. I work for and I see the angst among Americans over getting kicked out of their homes and jobs. Obama needs to get a clue and focus solely on stimulating companies of all sizes to expand their job base

Posted by Voomie | Report as abusive

What is amazing is that the Republicans believe that by putting their party back into control, that somehow all the current problems will be eliminated. How would continuing the policies of 2001-2009 in any way shape or form somehow put the economy BACK ON TRACK? Don’t forget, we’re still in a period where we’re “enjoying” the tax cuts of the Bush administration… taxes were at their lowest point as a percent of GDP since Reagan…and we struggled through a lost decade, ending in a crash. Honestly, HOW WILL FURTHER REPUBLICAN ECONOMICS HELP? Ignoring the question is ignoring history. Bush was on a trajectory through 2019 of $200-$300 BILLION per year in deficits. Implementing the BUSH initiated bailouts added more. Economists want more stimulus… Obama is responding. That’s not to say I agree with the Democrats – adding more medical expense right now is idiotic, no matter how nice it sounds. But for the Republicans to be so caught up in the politics that they see their own past and probably future incompetence as a strength, that’s stupid, ignorant, and dishonest. Crimes of treason for Obama? Please. Focus on the issues, jackasses. PS Sarah Palin isn’t the answer… Can you freaking imagine her trying to solve our country’s problems? Her rhetoric is just that…it sure isn’t reasoned leadership. For christsakes, I’m a conservative…and hate what the Republican party has become…a bunch of ignorant hayseed jackasses taking their cues from talk show hosts.

Posted by john | Report as abusive

“His job is to get the country on a path to fiscal sustainability …”

Agreed. And there’s no big mystery here. The only way to accomplish that is by restoring a balance of trade. It’s no mere coincidence that our cumulative trade deficit since 1975, the year of our last trade surplus, at $9.6 trillion closely matches the national debt racked up in the same period. Deficit spending has been the only way to offset the drain on our economy and jobs through the trade deficit.

The only way to restore a balance of trade is by returning to a trade policy that makes sensible use of tariffs to limit imports. The president’s plan to double exports is doomed to failure because the U.S. has virtually no control over exports. Exports are purely a function of foreign demand, and the demand isn’t there.

Tariffs on imports could easily raise an additional $750 billion per year in federal revenue while, at the same time, providing the profit potential needed to restore domestic manufacturing and dramatically cut unemployment.

But I doubt that Obama has the courage to take on the World Trade Organization and the parasitic economies who feed on our market and jobs. Nor do I see anyone on the political landscape with that kind of courage. So I’m sure that all we’ll get is more fiscal bandaids and more kicking the can down the road.

Posted by Pete Murphy | Report as abusive

to Get Planning: AMEN! What can Americans do to convince our DC Politicians to stop their stupid bickering and get to work solving our debt crisis? I’m scared to death.

Posted by KATHRYN OLSON | Report as abusive


The Scott Brown victory?
Never really happened.
What happened was the Barack Obama and Dem defeat.

People are frustrated and possibly even scared from what’s going on – Even in Massachusetts.

Posted by yr2009 | Report as abusive

The libs here need to grow up. Your focus on income “distribution” and Bush’s lower tax rates (as if that defines his policy) show your lack of economic understanding. The fact is we had a recession in 2001 and 9/11 but did not get anywhere near the unemployment numbers we now see. Yes, Bush made major mistakes, like the prescription medicare bill and not vetoing multiple spending bills-BUT Iraq is stable and we were not attacked by terrorists. All that said, the economic stats can NOT be correlated with the inaugurations of presidents. There is lag time for policy, there is the role of congress. The biggest budget items remain off the table: entitlements. Any rant about the economic meltdown that does not include discussion on liberal housing fantasies made into the destructive CRA is not worth reading. Any discussion of taxes that does not clarify rates vs. revenue and the Laffer curve is also a waste of time.

Posted by Pat Duggan | Report as abusive

I’m scared. Some of the world’s ugliest people – the hard line Republicans of the U.S. – as rising to power. These people, in their “our God is bigger than your God” religious extremism, are really no better than the Taliban. In their lack of concern for residents of the countries they economically and militarily invade, they’re no better than the Nazis. The shooting of Freedom Riders in the U.S. is recent history. The Ku Klux Klan is all Republican, still out there. And yet this country, particularly its Republican right, arrogantly claims a moral high ground among world powers.

The obscenely wealthy of the world can’t get richer if the middle class and the poor have no money to spend on the goods and services corporate America produces. Yet these rich folks have no interest in giving up anything, and the Republicans will support them in this to the bitter end – because they ARE the Reublicans!

There is a natural law that will operate here, a tipping point that no policy can circumvent. The economic oligarchy of the world can only squeeze the lower classes for so much, and then their sources of wealth will dry up. If this is what U.S. voters choose, then they deserve the catastrophe that’s bound to follow.

Posted by sea scapes | Report as abusive

Pat Duggan, did you read this story?

“A female suicide bomber laden with explosives blew herself up on Monday among Shi’ite pilgrims on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital, killing at least 41 people, security officials said.”

One of several similar stories.

How can you say that Iraq is “stable”?

Posted by sea scapes | Report as abusive

I’m glad to see at least one of you doesn’t see palin as the answer for the GOP’ers next president. She may sell more eye glass frames than anyone else, but it’s ludicrous that she’s even mentioned as a possibility. This last election was the first time ever I voted Democratic and will probably not be the last. Blaming the Dems for GOP created problems is about as logical as picking palin as a candidate.

Posted by norski2 | Report as abusive

Anyone who refers to progressive minded people as “libs” needs to grow up, not the “libs”.

Anyone who thinks Iraq is “stable” or that “we have not been attacked by terrorists” needs to get away from Fox News and AM radio.

People who blame the CRA for the financial catastrophe brought about by allowing commercial banks and investment banks to merge and then use massive leverage to trade unregulated derivatives on unregulated exchanges REALLY show their “lack of economic understanding”.

Any discussion with these class warriors who think in terms of “wealth distribution” (as if wealth starts and ends with them) is a waste of time.

Posted by getplaning | Report as abusive


Palin is almost as unqualified to be president as Obama. At least her heart and her instincts are in the right place. That’s saying a lot, but it’s not enough.

sea scapes,

Haven’t you noticed? The investment bankers, the rich and the powerful support Obama. They like big government. It is easier for them to dominate than small business and they are well positioned to maintain their power.

Posted by Charles R. Williams | Report as abusive

Dear friend,
After some long spell, i am reading and listening of your thoughtful writings from our famous news provider website.
What you said is just come out of his own shelf.
Just he entered to White House,People had more confidence,man of vision,thats why, Americans, irrespective of many inhibitions, racial mix, some ever long problems on their day today life,they have voted him as a President of America.
Historically,scientifically speaking ,that was a new chapter in American political and to world history by democratic means.
Back to your insight thoughts, you have mentioned what others said about his ruling parties suffer in recent senate election results.
Thats are all common in any democratic systems.
For example, i and we expected some drastic plans will emerge to clear recessionary obstacles, job losses, vast disparity in income,supply, distribution of income,bonuses, banks failure to deliver their goods and services in times to Americans and to boost American economy and bring America to back to mainstream of life in forthcoming months/years.So,American voters,middle classes,some business new tycoons, policy changers, some intelligent sections,some upcoming management gurus had voted to Mr,Obama as a American President.
In the mean while, many industries were closed, banks went to black list, deposit holders, employees,senior citizens were slightly on road.
So,he brought some drastic changes in banking,financial sectors by bail out measures,pumping government money to them to get back their business, some loans modification procedures,and it had produced real economic results.
Side by side, Iran!s nuclear programs, some democratic protests in Iran, mis handling Afghan!s issues from time to time and all related bad,tough matters had made Mr.Obama had sleepless nights for so many days.
Some time,some days have taken to study,organize new systems of governance to his subordinates, and to do some vital things for further halt in bad events.
He had attempted it to correct it,It had produced some minimum results.
As a general welfare, New Health Insurance schemes are much advantages to working class,organized labors,senior citizens and to others.
In the meanwhile, what all news medias,experts and other elite groups had initially supported his new health insurance schemes.Later on wards, lot of comment on his new health care proposals, some strong opposition from Republican senators and from his own party!s senators had started questioning about his latest proposal on health reform.
The above ups and downs events are new to Mr.Obama as a head of A vast country.
This had started back fire and created some ripples,confusions to hold it for some time.
Many Americans thought that, he wanted to bring some new ways of bringing legislations on health care,education, bonus,perks to top management,bank groups ,some new taxes for nations prosperity had a new fear phobia among many strong capitalist thinking persons.
To sum up, peoples expectations are too high.They want to get maximum benefits from government, industrial sectors, for more wealth generations by quick,existing and by easy ways.
That is not possible by any world famous thinker, or head of states of by any well knowledge sects of from any living personality.
Heaven will not fall us like water comes from heavy water falls or from any dams or from any oceans.
We can try to get heavenly ideas and try to implement it by one by one brick like constructing houses,malls,enterprises.
Still, many miles to go to get fruitful results and smiling,contended life from Americans and rest of the world.
But roads are not very far away to get our dreams into reality.

Posted by krishnamurthi ramachandran | Report as abusive