Obama's goofy priorities
This January, as President Barack Obama began his second term, the Pew Research Center asked Americans to list their policy priorities for 2013. Huge majorities cited jobs and the economy; sizable majorities cited health care costs and entitlement reform; more modest majorities cited fighting poverty and reforming the tax code. Down at the bottom of the list, with less than 40 percent support in each case, were gun control, immigration and climate change.Douthat nails it. Obama is pushing liberalism at the cost of ignoring the economy and jobs needed to recover from the Democrat caused housing bubble and the drag on the economy caused by Obamacare. Did he choose the current priorities from a focus group of liberals? What he is demonstrating is the opposite of leadership. The Acela needs to try surviving without subsidies from taxpayers. That would be a start.
Yet six months later, the public’s nonpriorities look like the entirety of the White House’s second-term agenda. The president’s failed push for background checks has given way to an ongoing push for immigration reform, and the administration is reportedly planning a sweeping regulatory push on carbon emissions this summer. Meanwhile, nobody expects much action on the issues that Americans actually wanted Washington to focus on: Tax and entitlement reform have been back-burnered, and the plight of the unemployed seems to have dropped off the D.C. radar screen entirely.
In part, this disconnect between country and capital reflects the limits gridlock puts on governance. The ideological divides in Washington — between right and left, and between different factions within the House Republican caucus — make action on first-rank issues unusually difficult, so it’s natural that politicians would look for compromises on lower-priority debates instead.
That’s the generous way of looking at it, at least. The more cynical take is that D.C. gridlock has given the political class an excuse to ignore the country’s most pressing problem — a lack of decent jobs at decent wages, with a deeper social crisis at work underneath — and pursue its own pet causes instead.
After all, gun control, immigration reform and climate change aren’t just random targets of opportunity. They’re pillars of Acela Corridor ideology, core elements of Bloombergism, places where Obama-era liberalism overlaps with the views of Davos-goers and the Wall Street 1 percent. If you move in those circles, the political circumstances don’t necessarily matter; these ideas always look like uncontroversial common sense.
Step outside those circles, though, and the timing of their elevation looks at best peculiar, at worst perverse. The president decided to make gun control legislation a major second-term priority … with firearm homicides at a 30-year low. Congress is pursuing a sharp increase in low-skilled immigration … when the foreign-born share of the American population is already headed for historical highs. The administration is drawing up major new carbon regulations … when actual existing global warming has been well below projections for 15 years and counting.
What’s more, on the issues that Americans actually prioritize — jobs, wages, the economy — it’s likely that both immigration reform and whatever the White House decides to do on greenhouse gases will make the short-term picture somewhat worse. The Congressional Budget Office’s recent analysis of the immigration bill errs on the side of optimism, but it still projects that the legislation would leave unemployment “slightly elevated” through 2020, and average wages modestly reduced. Given that similar estimates greeted the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill in 2009, it’s reasonable to assume that carbon regulations would slightly raise the unemployment rate as well.