Frank Rich uses his NYT perch to make the complaint, common among cultural as well as political commentators, that equates “Americans are not united behind my coterie’s political wish list” with “Americans are not united in any meaningful way, and that’s dangerous.” Naturally, we need a big, strong man to show us who’s boss.
[O]ur union is not strong. It is paralyzed. Many Americans were more eagerly anticipating Steve Jobs’s address in San Francisco on Wednesday morning than the president’s that night because they have far more confidence in Apple than Washington to produce concrete change. One year into Obama’s term we still don’t know whether he has what it takes to get American governance functioning again. But we do know that no speech can do the job. The president must act. Only body blows to the legislative branch can move the country forward.
Well, yes, plenty of Americans would like to inflict some body blows on the legislative branch—just not everyone in the way Rich means it.
The thing is, that’s not a problem that a strong president can make go away. Disagreement, on deep-rooted principles, is part of the fabric of American society and will always have to be factored into political prescriptions. It doesn’t represent “paralysis” unless you conceive of most problems as lying in the political realm and being the business of the United States Congress. Sometimes it really is necessary for the federal government to steamroll over possible objections. (Congress has the explicit power to declare war; we don’t take a plebiscite.)
But on many issues, the option of allowing for differences among states and municipalities enables individuals to vote with their feet and make the trade-offs they prefer. Insisting that Washington legislate them, by contrast, foists the same trade-offs on everyone from on high. Well, everyone but the insiders and lobbyists who come out with most of the pork and gravy. If Americans aren’t behind the mammoth new health-care or jobs program or eager to hear the president disgorge more of his trademark orotundities about it, that may be because many of them suspect, based on precedent, that it won’t work as promised. At least Steve Jobs was going to tell them something useful. And if their representatives in congress have picked up on their mood and are spooked, so much the better.
Added after coffee: That original first sentence was unnecessarily obnoxious, so I took out the nastier parts.
Added on 3 February: When I compared Frank Rich to Chief Wiggum, I thought I sounded like a jerk (which is why I deleted that part). When Eric does it, he sounds charmingly prankish. He manages to work in a doughnut reference, too, which is always welcome.