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Overblown Overreach

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Overblown Overreach"

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David Brooks, predictable enough, says Democrats are overreaching and destined to reap the whirlwind. Frankly, I have some doubts about this. Remember yesterday’s Washington Post poll that was full of bad news for Barack Obama? The one about how the public is losing faith in him and his agenda? Well, here was their question about who the public trusts on some key issues:

trust

I think the straightforward reading of this survey data is that congressional Democrats ought to ignore congressional Republicans and pass the ideas Barack Obama has proposed. And, again, the straightforward reading of November’s election results was that the public wanted (1) Barack Obama to be President and (2) members of congress sympathetic to Barack Obama. Congressional Democrats are good at overthinking political issues, and at coming up with rationalizations for why giving in to special interest demands are the only politically feasible option, but the evidence suggests that the public remains enthusiastic about Obamaism.

Meanwhile, I have to say that I think the general phenomenon of “overreach” — and especially of “liberal overreach” — is wildly overblown. It’s not as if what happened in 1994 was the congress passed Bill Clinton’s big health reform package, then the public didn’t like it, then in revulsion they turned against Democrats. Nor did congress pass the proposed BTU tax, then the public didn’t like it, and then in revulsion they turned against Democrats. The noteworthy thing about the first two years of the Clinton administration was the lack of ambitious progressive programs put in place. And you could say the same about Jimmy Carter. Whatever it is people reacted against in 1978, 1980, and 1994 it wasn’t actually existing left-wing governance.

Again, to try to avoid overthinking things, a health care bill that gets signed into law and makes people’s lives better should be pretty popular irrespective of what gets said on cable the week before congress votes. Conversely, even a bill that polls really well won’t be very popular if, when implemented, it makes people’s lives worse.

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