Democrats are finally getting a taste of what it means to disagree with President Obama. In the early years of his second term Obama has opted to move beyond substantive policy debates towards a coronation of ideas. He was once derided by his own party as being too professorial, too willing to engage in a Socratic debate of ideas, to comfortable sitting in an ivory tower rather than forcing an agenda through the halls of Washington. Congress spoke the language of power and authority, not facts and figures, they reasoned.
Whether Obama listened to his critics or he simply knows he has no more races to run, the president has changed. He’s given up debating and instead taken to fighting. In the realm of policy, if one happens to receive his endorsement then voters should take it on faith that it’s worth pursuing with no questions asked.
It’s been an incredibly frustrating experience, in no small part because conservative ideas take time to explain. Almost all of our economic arguments encourage a focus on the long-term impacts of policy decisions, which is to say they ask voters to ignore the shiny object that Democrats are holding in front of their face (stimulus dollars, entitlement benefits, subsidy funds, a minimum wage, etc.) and instead look at what happens when Democrats propose throwing that object at a fragile-as-glass economy.
But now, the anti-trade protectionists on the left are getting a taste of what it means to go up against latter-day, just-take-my-word-for-it Obama.
In responding to Elizabeth Warren, a vehement opponent of free trade, he declared her “dead wrong.” Why? Because his agenda has always been about the middle class, so this must be too, right?
“Think about it,” Obama said recently on Hardball with Chris Matthews. “Everything I do has been focused on how do we make sure the middle class is getting a fair deal.”
“Now I would not be doing this trade deal if I did not think it was good for the middle class. And when you hear folks make a lot of suggestions about how bad this trade deal is, when you dig into the facts they are wrong,” he continued.
Sen. Warren fired back, alleging that the trade deal would somehow water down the Dodd-Frank regulations that passed after the mortgage-based financial crash.
And then President Obama responded, again, with an argument that can best be summed up as: I’m right, she’s wrong, because y’know, look at my history.
“Think about the logic of that, right. The notion that I had this massive fight with Wall Street to make sure that we don’t repeat what happened in 2007, 2008. And then I sign a provision that would unravel it?” the president told Yahoo’s Matt Bai.
“I’d have to be pretty stupid,” the president continued, laughing at this point. “This is pure speculation. She and I both taught law school, and you know, one of the things you do as a law professor is you spin out hypotheticals. And this is all hypothetical, speculative.”
And then President Obama dropped the real bomb, calling Warren “a politician like everybody else,” a thinly veiled attack on her ability to judge policy on the merits.
At no point does he make a substantive argument in favor of trade. And, to be clear, he had many available to him, for instance, that the majority of our imports are used for business inputs, which reduce production costs and make their products more competitive; or that our economy benefits in the long term from focusing on industries in which we have a competitive advantage; or that consumers benefit by having access to higher-quality, lower priced good. Obama ignored all of that, instead opting to simply declare those who disagree unworthy of his attention, because, they’re disagreement must be rooted in some political gain.
Charles C.W. Cooke, writing for National Review, breaks down just why this style of debate is so utterly frustrating to anyone who must endure its inanity:
This is classic Obama, and it is notable only because it is aimed at somebody his own side rather than at the Republican Party. As we have learned by now, there is a level at which Obama honestly does believe that his ideas are the only sensible ones; that there is only one way of running the country and of addressing problems; and that all opposition to his agenda is base and political, while his own motives are pure. If I were Elizabeth Warren, I’d feel pretty miffed that my considered and heartfelt opposition to this measure is being dismissed in this way. But then, I’d feel that way if I were pretty much anybody on the Right, too. That Obama is now playing this game with his own side perhaps serves to show where his mind is at in the waning days of his presidency.
To be clear, Elizabeth Warren does happen to be dead wrong on the case of trade, but Republicans at least can commiserate with her attempt to argue with someone who fashions himself to be infallible.