The Obama Of Conservative Fantasy

Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post imagines, for reasons that aren't immediately clear, what would have happened at last week's debate had President Obama, the Democrat, spent the last four years governing as a Republican in a make-believe Washington that isn't hamstrung by intractable, reflexive partisanship.

She writes:

Let's mull over an alternate history of the Obama administration. Beginning with the stimulus, let's say Obama seizes control of the agenda from Congress. He dispenses with non-stimulative wish-list items and includes a number of Republican ideas, including shovel-ready defense jobs. When the omnibus spending bill comes along full of earmarks, he vetoes it. He doesn't wait to set up a debt commission. It is selected and completes its work in 2009 (not 2010). Obama embraces Simpson-Bowles and gets its debt plan, including tax reform, through Congress over the objections of hard-liners on both sides.

As a result, no tea party movement comes into being, there is no credit downgrade and the Democrats hold the House in 2010. Obama then works on health-care reform for the non-poor and non-seniors, coming up with a deal to which some, but certainly not a majority of, Republicans sign onto. He takes the Bush comprehensive immigration plan from 2007 and gets that passed as well.

Now, imagine what the debate would be like. What would Mitt Romney (if he were still the nominee in our parallel universe) have to complain about?

So had Obama done things Jennifer Rubin likes, then Jennifer Rubin would have been happy. That's top-shelf analysis. A feather in your cap, Washington Post. Never mind the fact that much of what she wrote is wrong, ahistorical, or outright fantastical. 

No stimulus funding for “shovel-ready defense jobs,” you say? The Army Corps of Engineers received over $4 billion for “construction” and “operations and maintenance.” The Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force received over $4 billion in stimulus cash for “facilities operation and maintenance.” The real issue is that spending on the military doesn't create jobs at the same rate as non-defense spending.

And “no tea party movement” as a consequence of Obama passing tax reform in 2009? Really? The Tea Party emerged almost immediately after Obama's inauguration (Rick Santelli's famous rant happened on February 19, 2009) and was a reaction to government helping homeowners with subprime mortgages to refinance, before growing into a “grassroots” protest against Obama specifically and government spending generally.

And then there's this: “He takes the Bush comprehensive immigration plan from 2007 and gets that passed as well.” How would he have done that, exactly? Rubin doesn't explain, though presumably it involves convincing Congressional Republicans to give up their objection to any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, something they refused to do for Bush but would do for a Democrat because that's totally how Congress works these days.

But let's look at this a little more broadly, because it gets into the conservative critique of President Obama that he refused to work with Republicans or consider any of their ideas -- an idea that is completely false and easily debunked. The stimulus contained $288 billion in tax cuts and the White House pressured Democrats to include Republican proposals in the bill in order to attract support from the House GOP. It's old hat by this point, but Obamacare is basically indistinct from Romneycare, and the individual mandate at the core of both bills traces its lineage to the Heritage Foundation.

Conservatives, however, have constructed this fantasy Obama who has governed as a left-wing ideologue while shutting out the GOP from the political process. It's useful for them politically as it provides a bogeyman to rail against, but the reality is that Republicans have rejected the Republican ideas put on the table because they felt they had more to gain by opposing the president than working with him. And that was the plan from, literally, day one.