Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jonathan Chait

Jonathan Chait’s Hokum

Jonathan Chait continues his tireless attempt to defend the indefensible: ObamaCare. In his latest iteration, titled “Paul Ryan’s Hokum,” he criticizes Ryan and those who have praised him, including Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard, Investor’s Business Daily, and me.

According to Chait, “Ryan’s argument holds a lot of superficial appeal to people who are looking for reasons to oppose the health care plan but lack a firm grasp of the details. On close examination it falls apart.”

Actually, the arguments that are superficial and misleading, and which fall of their own weight, are Chait’s.

Mr. Chait argues two things. First,

Ryan claims that the [Obama] plan is phony because it ignores the fact that Congress is going to have to increase reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients. The problem is, that reimbursement fix is going to happen anyway, regardless of whether reform occurs. So to count that cost as a hidden cost of health care reform is simply incorrect.

Second, Chait insists that “Ryan misleadingly portrayed the health care plan as hiding its costs, by phasing in benefits more slowly than costs.” Chait proceeds to quote himself from an earlier posting:

Ryan objected that the Senate health care bill does not really reduce the deficit, because it raises taxes and reduces spending over ten years, but pays out benefits over just six. If that was true, it would be a sharp rebuttal to Obama’s claim of reducing the deficit. And you could certainly design a bill like that. By spreading out the savings over a long time and delaying the benefits, you’d have a bill that technically saves money over a ten year window, but starts to lose money by year ten, and to bleed more red ink after that.

But it’s not true. The benefits do phase in slowly, but so do the savings. The CBO finds that the Senate bill reduces the deficit in year ten. It would reduce the deficit by more than a trillion dollars in the next ten years.

Let’s deal with these arguments in order. The so-called “doc fix” — which would restore reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients — is most certainly a hidden cost. It was originally in the House bill but was stripped out in the summer and treated as a separate bill precisely because keeping it in the original health-care legislation would (rightly) balloon the total cost. By stripping the “doc fix” provision out, it allowed ObamaCare to be scored at a much lower figure. The more honest way to proceed would have been to add the cost of “doc fix” to ObamaCare, since the costs will be paid by the federal government. So Ryan is correct; what we’re dealing with is, in fact, a hidden cost. That was the whole purpose behind the Democrats’ strategy.

Second, no one with any knowledge of this situation — not even Jonathan Chait — believes that future Congresses will effect over half a trillion dollars of in cuts to Medicare. Yet the Democrats’ health-care bill relies for its claim of cutting the deficit beyond 2020 on — you guessed it — those huge Medicare cuts. Think of it as a giant “magic asterisk.” Baking fictional cuts into the cake is why the Congressional Budget Office says the bill will save more money in the long term. They are forced to score plans based on the premises they are given, including fictional ones. Ryan’s point is that the cuts won’t happen, so the savings won’t, either.

A final point: “doc fix” is itself a good example of why Medicare cuts on the scale we are talking about will never happen. “Doc fix” refers to a provision of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. It called on cuts in reimbursements to physicians treating Medicare patients. The reality, though, is that those cuts have been rescinded year after year after year. The supposed cost savings haven’t materialized — and neither will massive cuts in Medicare. But defenders of ObamaCare need to pretend they will, in order to argue that their plan will reduce the deficit.

In sum: Ryan is right and Chait wrong. This may be because Chait lacks a firm grasp of the details. But there are other possibilities, too.

If this is the best Chait and his allies can do in defending Obama and criticizing Ryan, the GOP is in better shape than even I imagined.

Jonathan Chait continues his tireless attempt to defend the indefensible: ObamaCare. In his latest iteration, titled “Paul Ryan’s Hokum,” he criticizes Ryan and those who have praised him, including Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard, Investor’s Business Daily, and me.

According to Chait, “Ryan’s argument holds a lot of superficial appeal to people who are looking for reasons to oppose the health care plan but lack a firm grasp of the details. On close examination it falls apart.”

Actually, the arguments that are superficial and misleading, and which fall of their own weight, are Chait’s.

Mr. Chait argues two things. First,

Ryan claims that the [Obama] plan is phony because it ignores the fact that Congress is going to have to increase reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients. The problem is, that reimbursement fix is going to happen anyway, regardless of whether reform occurs. So to count that cost as a hidden cost of health care reform is simply incorrect.

Second, Chait insists that “Ryan misleadingly portrayed the health care plan as hiding its costs, by phasing in benefits more slowly than costs.” Chait proceeds to quote himself from an earlier posting:

Ryan objected that the Senate health care bill does not really reduce the deficit, because it raises taxes and reduces spending over ten years, but pays out benefits over just six. If that was true, it would be a sharp rebuttal to Obama’s claim of reducing the deficit. And you could certainly design a bill like that. By spreading out the savings over a long time and delaying the benefits, you’d have a bill that technically saves money over a ten year window, but starts to lose money by year ten, and to bleed more red ink after that.

But it’s not true. The benefits do phase in slowly, but so do the savings. The CBO finds that the Senate bill reduces the deficit in year ten. It would reduce the deficit by more than a trillion dollars in the next ten years.

Let’s deal with these arguments in order. The so-called “doc fix” — which would restore reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients — is most certainly a hidden cost. It was originally in the House bill but was stripped out in the summer and treated as a separate bill precisely because keeping it in the original health-care legislation would (rightly) balloon the total cost. By stripping the “doc fix” provision out, it allowed ObamaCare to be scored at a much lower figure. The more honest way to proceed would have been to add the cost of “doc fix” to ObamaCare, since the costs will be paid by the federal government. So Ryan is correct; what we’re dealing with is, in fact, a hidden cost. That was the whole purpose behind the Democrats’ strategy.

Second, no one with any knowledge of this situation — not even Jonathan Chait — believes that future Congresses will effect over half a trillion dollars of in cuts to Medicare. Yet the Democrats’ health-care bill relies for its claim of cutting the deficit beyond 2020 on — you guessed it — those huge Medicare cuts. Think of it as a giant “magic asterisk.” Baking fictional cuts into the cake is why the Congressional Budget Office says the bill will save more money in the long term. They are forced to score plans based on the premises they are given, including fictional ones. Ryan’s point is that the cuts won’t happen, so the savings won’t, either.

A final point: “doc fix” is itself a good example of why Medicare cuts on the scale we are talking about will never happen. “Doc fix” refers to a provision of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. It called on cuts in reimbursements to physicians treating Medicare patients. The reality, though, is that those cuts have been rescinded year after year after year. The supposed cost savings haven’t materialized — and neither will massive cuts in Medicare. But defenders of ObamaCare need to pretend they will, in order to argue that their plan will reduce the deficit.

In sum: Ryan is right and Chait wrong. This may be because Chait lacks a firm grasp of the details. But there are other possibilities, too.

If this is the best Chait and his allies can do in defending Obama and criticizing Ryan, the GOP is in better shape than even I imagined.

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LIVE BLOG: Chait Needs to Re-engage with Reality

John, I’d add (for now) a few points to your response to Jonathan Chait. Isn’t it interesting that Americans are siding, in overwhelming numbers, with “people who reply either on debunked claims at best and talk-radio-level slogans at worst”? And if Mr. Chait is proud to claim such articulate advocates as Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, John Dingell, Louise Slaughter, and all the rest, he is free to do so.

This was a dispiriting day for the president, for the Democrats, and for their health-care plans. I think ObamaCare will die; and it will die because liberals are badly losing the arguments on the merits. The sooner liberals like Chait accept that unpleasant truth — the sooner they re-engage with reality — the better off they will be.

John, I’d add (for now) a few points to your response to Jonathan Chait. Isn’t it interesting that Americans are siding, in overwhelming numbers, with “people who reply either on debunked claims at best and talk-radio-level slogans at worst”? And if Mr. Chait is proud to claim such articulate advocates as Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, John Dingell, Louise Slaughter, and all the rest, he is free to do so.

This was a dispiriting day for the president, for the Democrats, and for their health-care plans. I think ObamaCare will die; and it will die because liberals are badly losing the arguments on the merits. The sooner liberals like Chait accept that unpleasant truth — the sooner they re-engage with reality — the better off they will be.

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LIVE BLOG: Condescending

Jonathan Chait writes:

John Podhoretz calls Obama “startlingly condescending at moments.” How can that be avoided when you’re trying to have a high-level discussion with people who reply either on debunked claims at best and talk radio-level slogans at worst?

Here’s how. By not being condescending. That’s how.

Jonathan Chait writes:

John Podhoretz calls Obama “startlingly condescending at moments.” How can that be avoided when you’re trying to have a high-level discussion with people who reply either on debunked claims at best and talk radio-level slogans at worst?

Here’s how. By not being condescending. That’s how.

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LIVE BLOG: More on Obama’s Performance

I wrote earlier about differences in perception owing to ideology by citing Jonathan Chait of the New Republic. Now Yuval Levin, who has written about health care for COMMENTARY and is the editor of the wonderful National Affairs, offers his view at the Corner:

An important part of the Democrats’ problem is that Obama himself is their only star, and this format is not working for him. He certainly seems engaged and well informed (even given a few misstatements of fact, at least one of which John Kyl made very clear.) But he doesn’t seem like the President of the United States—more like a slightly cranky committee chairman or a patronizing professor who thinks that saying something is “a legitimate argument” is a way to avoid having an argument. He is diminished by the circumstances, he’s cranky and prickly when challenged, and he’s got no one to help him.

Yuval and I are in agreement about Obama’s professorial mien, which he calls “patronizing” and I called “condescending.” But I still think Obama comes across well on balance. And yet, thinking a little more about the peculiarity of Democrats talking so sweetly about how little difference there is between them and the Republicans, I am beginning to think Yuval has it right that “it is hard to see how the Democrats are doing themselves anything but harm with the health-care summit.”

This whole thing was a terrific blunder, probably, because with their own proposals’s support sinking and their own case for those proposals being made so haphazardly and disingenuously, Democrats are strengthening rather than weakening the Republican argument that the whole thing needs to be thrown out — because if Republicans disagree with them, and Republicans have more credibility on this right now, their judgment will more closely track with the public’s. And therefore, should Democrats decide to muscle their legislation through, they will all but ensure a voter uprising.

I wrote earlier about differences in perception owing to ideology by citing Jonathan Chait of the New Republic. Now Yuval Levin, who has written about health care for COMMENTARY and is the editor of the wonderful National Affairs, offers his view at the Corner:

An important part of the Democrats’ problem is that Obama himself is their only star, and this format is not working for him. He certainly seems engaged and well informed (even given a few misstatements of fact, at least one of which John Kyl made very clear.) But he doesn’t seem like the President of the United States—more like a slightly cranky committee chairman or a patronizing professor who thinks that saying something is “a legitimate argument” is a way to avoid having an argument. He is diminished by the circumstances, he’s cranky and prickly when challenged, and he’s got no one to help him.

Yuval and I are in agreement about Obama’s professorial mien, which he calls “patronizing” and I called “condescending.” But I still think Obama comes across well on balance. And yet, thinking a little more about the peculiarity of Democrats talking so sweetly about how little difference there is between them and the Republicans, I am beginning to think Yuval has it right that “it is hard to see how the Democrats are doing themselves anything but harm with the health-care summit.”

This whole thing was a terrific blunder, probably, because with their own proposals’s support sinking and their own case for those proposals being made so haphazardly and disingenuously, Democrats are strengthening rather than weakening the Republican argument that the whole thing needs to be thrown out — because if Republicans disagree with them, and Republicans have more credibility on this right now, their judgment will more closely track with the public’s. And therefore, should Democrats decide to muscle their legislation through, they will all but ensure a voter uprising.

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LIVE BLOG: The Two Different Universes Problem

My sense of this summit is that President Obama is exactly as he always is — extremely intelligent, knowledgeable about policy details, so certain of the rightness of his views that he has no compunction about declaring the views of his antagonists to be merely politically convenient rather than substantive, startlingly condescending at moments, and even more startlingly long-winded when he gets going. As a result, he both looks good and bad in these settings — good because he’s serious and doesn’t appear to be a fanatic, and bad because of the condescension.

Then I turn to the New Republic‘s Jonathan Chait and I read this:

Most [of] the time, this is like watching Lebron James play basketball with a bunch of kids who got cut from the 7th grade basketball team. He’s treating them really nice, letting his teammates take shots and allowing the other team to try to score. Nice try on that layup, Timmy, you almost got it on. But after a couple minutes I want him to just grab the ball and dunk on these clowns already.

So here we have a sterling example of how ideological predilections, his and mine, might color our opinions here. Except for one thing: You can only think Obama is Lebron James playing 7th graders if you are already certain his opinions are right, because the best you can say about this summit so far for him is that it’s a draw, and it’s probably worse than that. And given that only 25 percent of the public wants ObamaCare, he needs to be Lebron James. And Pete Maravich. And Oscar Robertson. And Kareem. All at the same time.

My sense of this summit is that President Obama is exactly as he always is — extremely intelligent, knowledgeable about policy details, so certain of the rightness of his views that he has no compunction about declaring the views of his antagonists to be merely politically convenient rather than substantive, startlingly condescending at moments, and even more startlingly long-winded when he gets going. As a result, he both looks good and bad in these settings — good because he’s serious and doesn’t appear to be a fanatic, and bad because of the condescension.

Then I turn to the New Republic‘s Jonathan Chait and I read this:

Most [of] the time, this is like watching Lebron James play basketball with a bunch of kids who got cut from the 7th grade basketball team. He’s treating them really nice, letting his teammates take shots and allowing the other team to try to score. Nice try on that layup, Timmy, you almost got it on. But after a couple minutes I want him to just grab the ball and dunk on these clowns already.

So here we have a sterling example of how ideological predilections, his and mine, might color our opinions here. Except for one thing: You can only think Obama is Lebron James playing 7th graders if you are already certain his opinions are right, because the best you can say about this summit so far for him is that it’s a draw, and it’s probably worse than that. And given that only 25 percent of the public wants ObamaCare, he needs to be Lebron James. And Pete Maravich. And Oscar Robertson. And Kareem. All at the same time.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sen. Richard Shelby’s hold on all Obama nominees to get his pork is getting slammed from all sides. For starters, it takes the focus off the truly egregious nominees (e.g., Dawn Johnsen, Harold Craig Becker).

And he’s done a bang-up job of giving the White House a rare moment on the high ground. “The White House on Friday shot back at Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) who recently took the unusual step of placing a blanket hold on all of the administration’s nominees. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer accused Shelby of seeking political gain in preventing the government from doing its job.”

But it remains gloom and doom for Democrats at the DNC meeting: “In regional meetings and in the hallways of the downtown hotel where they were meeting, DNC members voiced frustration about their fortunes and, with a measure of urgency, plotted about how best to navigate through what is shaping up to be one of their most difficult election cycles in recent history. Some party officials sought to ward off complacency with pointed reminders about just how perilous this year could be.”

David Broder notes that there was no follow-up by the White House after the televised question-and-answer time with House Republicans, which suggests to Broder that “the president and his people may not realize the degree to which Republican frustration with Pelosi’s management of the House has created opportunities for Obama — if he is willing to engage as directly as he did in his Illinois Senate days.” Or maybe the whole question-and-answer routine was just more spin, and Obama has no intention of altering his far-Left agenda.

John Yoo takes Obama to task: “Obama believes the president should lead a revolution in society, the economy, and the political system, but defer on national security and foreign policy to the other branches of government. This upends the Framers’ vision of the presidency. They thought the chief executive’s powers would expand broadly to meet external challenges while playing a modest role at home.”

Back in September, the Los Angeles Times called on Eric Holder to come clean on the New Black Panther Party case. Now the Providence Journal turns up the heat: “Instead of letting questions fester about a potentially troublesome matter, the Obama administration should come clean about its decision to dismiss a case involving what looked like racist voter intimidation in 2008. Then, hopefully, everyone can move on. …The Justice Department may enforce our laws, but it is not above them. Instead of stonewalling, it should share with the public who made this decision to drop the case, and why.”

The State of the Union bounce seems to have faded: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Saturday shows that 26% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-one percent (41%) Strongly Disapprove which Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -15. That matches the President’s ratings just before the State-of-the-Union Address.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand might be asked why the repeal of the Bush tax cuts is good for her state: “Federal income-tax rates in the top brackets will be restored to their pre-2001 levels next year, the Bush-era cuts in capital gains and dividend taxes will be partially reversed, and itemized deductions for high-income filers (including deductions for state and local taxes) will be curtailed. If all of this comes to pass, it will spell trouble for the New York state budget for a simple reason: New York’s finances are balanced on a narrow pinnacle of high-income households, and higher federal taxes drive top-earning New Yorkers to lower their overall tax burdens by sheltering incomes, earning less, or moving to lower-tax states.”

Jonathan Chait calls Jamie Gorelick a “corrupt hack” for lobbying for lenders who don’t want the federal government to drive them out of the student loan business. Conservatives may not agree with the reason, but the conclusion — “cross Gorelick off the list of Democrats suitable to hold office” — is one that will get bipartisan support.

Sen. Richard Shelby’s hold on all Obama nominees to get his pork is getting slammed from all sides. For starters, it takes the focus off the truly egregious nominees (e.g., Dawn Johnsen, Harold Craig Becker).

And he’s done a bang-up job of giving the White House a rare moment on the high ground. “The White House on Friday shot back at Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) who recently took the unusual step of placing a blanket hold on all of the administration’s nominees. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer accused Shelby of seeking political gain in preventing the government from doing its job.”

But it remains gloom and doom for Democrats at the DNC meeting: “In regional meetings and in the hallways of the downtown hotel where they were meeting, DNC members voiced frustration about their fortunes and, with a measure of urgency, plotted about how best to navigate through what is shaping up to be one of their most difficult election cycles in recent history. Some party officials sought to ward off complacency with pointed reminders about just how perilous this year could be.”

David Broder notes that there was no follow-up by the White House after the televised question-and-answer time with House Republicans, which suggests to Broder that “the president and his people may not realize the degree to which Republican frustration with Pelosi’s management of the House has created opportunities for Obama — if he is willing to engage as directly as he did in his Illinois Senate days.” Or maybe the whole question-and-answer routine was just more spin, and Obama has no intention of altering his far-Left agenda.

John Yoo takes Obama to task: “Obama believes the president should lead a revolution in society, the economy, and the political system, but defer on national security and foreign policy to the other branches of government. This upends the Framers’ vision of the presidency. They thought the chief executive’s powers would expand broadly to meet external challenges while playing a modest role at home.”

Back in September, the Los Angeles Times called on Eric Holder to come clean on the New Black Panther Party case. Now the Providence Journal turns up the heat: “Instead of letting questions fester about a potentially troublesome matter, the Obama administration should come clean about its decision to dismiss a case involving what looked like racist voter intimidation in 2008. Then, hopefully, everyone can move on. …The Justice Department may enforce our laws, but it is not above them. Instead of stonewalling, it should share with the public who made this decision to drop the case, and why.”

The State of the Union bounce seems to have faded: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Saturday shows that 26% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-one percent (41%) Strongly Disapprove which Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -15. That matches the President’s ratings just before the State-of-the-Union Address.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand might be asked why the repeal of the Bush tax cuts is good for her state: “Federal income-tax rates in the top brackets will be restored to their pre-2001 levels next year, the Bush-era cuts in capital gains and dividend taxes will be partially reversed, and itemized deductions for high-income filers (including deductions for state and local taxes) will be curtailed. If all of this comes to pass, it will spell trouble for the New York state budget for a simple reason: New York’s finances are balanced on a narrow pinnacle of high-income households, and higher federal taxes drive top-earning New Yorkers to lower their overall tax burdens by sheltering incomes, earning less, or moving to lower-tax states.”

Jonathan Chait calls Jamie Gorelick a “corrupt hack” for lobbying for lenders who don’t want the federal government to drive them out of the student loan business. Conservatives may not agree with the reason, but the conclusion — “cross Gorelick off the list of Democrats suitable to hold office” — is one that will get bipartisan support.

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The Widening Rift Between Obama and the Left

I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis, Jen, as I almost always do. I’d simply add a prediction into the mix. We will see the split between Obama and the Left continue to widen. This will occur not because Obama’s agenda isn’t liberal; it is, with a few exceptions. No, what will fuel the revolt on the Left is Obama’s sinking political fortunes. Liberals don’t want their cause to go down with him, so they’ll increasingly separate themselves from him, allowing them to say that the reason he failed is that he wasn’t liberal enough. That is the line of argument one is beginning to hear (with varying degrees of incoherence) from Paul Krugman, Jonathan Chait, Frank Rich, E.J. Dionne, and others.

In this fantasy world, Obama is failing because his stimulus package wasn’t expensive enough. Right-oh, and if Obama doesn’t jam through health-care legislation, his will be a broken presidency. Only ObamaCare can salvage it. Agreed, and of course Obama’s other problem is that he was too bipartisan during his first year. He needs to fight harder, to be more aggressive, to get in our faces more frequently, to lecture us more often. Et cetera. Et cetera.

This view of things is utterly detached from reality, of course, and in that sense it probably helps conservatives. It’s always useful when the movement one is competing against is deluded about the nature and depth of its problems.

Watching this split, which is now only in its early phases, is going to be endless interesting.

I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis, Jen, as I almost always do. I’d simply add a prediction into the mix. We will see the split between Obama and the Left continue to widen. This will occur not because Obama’s agenda isn’t liberal; it is, with a few exceptions. No, what will fuel the revolt on the Left is Obama’s sinking political fortunes. Liberals don’t want their cause to go down with him, so they’ll increasingly separate themselves from him, allowing them to say that the reason he failed is that he wasn’t liberal enough. That is the line of argument one is beginning to hear (with varying degrees of incoherence) from Paul Krugman, Jonathan Chait, Frank Rich, E.J. Dionne, and others.

In this fantasy world, Obama is failing because his stimulus package wasn’t expensive enough. Right-oh, and if Obama doesn’t jam through health-care legislation, his will be a broken presidency. Only ObamaCare can salvage it. Agreed, and of course Obama’s other problem is that he was too bipartisan during his first year. He needs to fight harder, to be more aggressive, to get in our faces more frequently, to lecture us more often. Et cetera. Et cetera.

This view of things is utterly detached from reality, of course, and in that sense it probably helps conservatives. It’s always useful when the movement one is competing against is deluded about the nature and depth of its problems.

Watching this split, which is now only in its early phases, is going to be endless interesting.

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The President, the New Republic, and Dramatic Decline

In the afterglow of Barack Obama’s election, liberals were peddling a lot of bad ideas. Among them was the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, who in December 2008 wrote this:

The practical import of the Obama mandate debate has fallen on the question of whether he should pursue his goal of comprehensive health care reform, which numerous pundits and even some Democrats have tagged as dangerously ambitious. But this is one area where undiluted liberalism enjoys overwhelming public support. The public, by a roughly two-to-one margin, thinks the government has a responsibility to make sure that every American has adequate health care. Congressional Democrats fear a repeat of 1994–when, as they see it, Bill Clinton over-interpreted his mandate and therefore failed to pass health care reform. This reading has it backward. Clinton’s health care plan failed because Congress decided he didn’t have a mandate and refused to pass it. If the Democrats fail this time, it will probably be because they psyched themselves out once again.

Thirteen months later, Chait’s “undiluted liberalism” enjoys something less than overwhelming public support.

In fact, the United States has become more, not less, conservative during the Obama presidency (by a margin of 2-to-1, Americans describe themselves as conservative rather than liberal). And Obama and the Democrats, having followed Chait’s counsel, find themselves in a terrible political ditch. After a year in office, Mr. Obama has become, by a wide margin, our most polarizing president. He has the highest disapproval ratings ever recorded for an elected president beginning his second year. No other president has seen his Gallup job-approval rating drop as far as Obama’s has (21 points) in his first year. And the public overwhelmingly opposes Obama’s signature domestic initiative, health care (the approve-disapprove spread ranges from 15 to 20 points).

In addition, Democrats have suffered crushing losses in gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia — and last week they suffered a particularly devastating loss in the Massachusetts Senate race. Independents are voting for Republicans by a 2-to-1 (or better) margin. Republicans are now polling better than Democrats on most issues. They are ahead on most generic congressional vote polls. The GOP’s recruiting efforts are going gangbusters, while Democrats are either withdrawing from midterm races in November or not throwing their hat into the ring at all. “I have not seen a party’s fortunes collapse so suddenly since Richard Nixon got caught up in the Watergate scandal and a president who carried 49 states was threatened with impeachment and removal from office,” according to the political analyst Michael Barone.

Democrats, rightly sensing what awaits them in November, are nearly panic-stricken.

In light of what has come to pass, Mr. Chait’s writings look comical. After a disastrous August for ObamaCare, Chait declared, against all evidence, “August moved the ball pretty far down the field.” He was issuing ominous warnings about a GOP overreach on health care in September. And in October he wrote, “We’ve had months of sturm and drang, and massive attention focused on the question, Whither health care reform? It’s just quietly turned into a fait accompli.”

Au contraire. ObamaCare, while not yet dead, is in critical and perhaps terminal condition. And the damaging effects it has had on the president and the Democratic party is beyond serious dispute. Charlie Cook of National Journal put it this way:

Honorable and intelligent people can disagree over the substance and details of what President Obama and congressional Democrats are trying to do on health care reform and climate change. But nearly a year after Obama’s inauguration, judging by where the Democrats stand today, it’s clear that they have made a colossal miscalculation.

Clear, that is, to everyone but Jonathan Chait. He is in the uncomfortable position of having to explain how the Obama presidency and liberalism have gone off the rails in the past year, a year devoted to trying to pass massively unpopular health-care legislation championed by people like Chait. Rather than coming to grips with reality, though, Chait has opted for self-delusion. In his January 19 column, for example, Jonathan was reduced to writing things like this:

The perception has formed, perhaps indelibly, that the reason Democrats will get hammered in the 2010 elections is that the party moved too far left in general and tried to reform health care in particular. This perception owes itself, above all, to the habit that political analysts in the media and other outposts of mainstream thought have of ignoring structural factors.

So Obama and the Democrats find themselves on the precipice, not because of health care, but because of “structural factors.” Of course. Scott Brown famously won his Massachusetts Senate race by promising to be the 41st vote against “structural factors.”

It is all rather pathetic.

The New Republic was once one of the nation’s leading journals of opinion. It was the home of first-rate thinkers and first-rate writers. Today it is the home of Jonathan Chait.

It has been a long and dramatic decline.

In the afterglow of Barack Obama’s election, liberals were peddling a lot of bad ideas. Among them was the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, who in December 2008 wrote this:

The practical import of the Obama mandate debate has fallen on the question of whether he should pursue his goal of comprehensive health care reform, which numerous pundits and even some Democrats have tagged as dangerously ambitious. But this is one area where undiluted liberalism enjoys overwhelming public support. The public, by a roughly two-to-one margin, thinks the government has a responsibility to make sure that every American has adequate health care. Congressional Democrats fear a repeat of 1994–when, as they see it, Bill Clinton over-interpreted his mandate and therefore failed to pass health care reform. This reading has it backward. Clinton’s health care plan failed because Congress decided he didn’t have a mandate and refused to pass it. If the Democrats fail this time, it will probably be because they psyched themselves out once again.

Thirteen months later, Chait’s “undiluted liberalism” enjoys something less than overwhelming public support.

In fact, the United States has become more, not less, conservative during the Obama presidency (by a margin of 2-to-1, Americans describe themselves as conservative rather than liberal). And Obama and the Democrats, having followed Chait’s counsel, find themselves in a terrible political ditch. After a year in office, Mr. Obama has become, by a wide margin, our most polarizing president. He has the highest disapproval ratings ever recorded for an elected president beginning his second year. No other president has seen his Gallup job-approval rating drop as far as Obama’s has (21 points) in his first year. And the public overwhelmingly opposes Obama’s signature domestic initiative, health care (the approve-disapprove spread ranges from 15 to 20 points).

In addition, Democrats have suffered crushing losses in gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia — and last week they suffered a particularly devastating loss in the Massachusetts Senate race. Independents are voting for Republicans by a 2-to-1 (or better) margin. Republicans are now polling better than Democrats on most issues. They are ahead on most generic congressional vote polls. The GOP’s recruiting efforts are going gangbusters, while Democrats are either withdrawing from midterm races in November or not throwing their hat into the ring at all. “I have not seen a party’s fortunes collapse so suddenly since Richard Nixon got caught up in the Watergate scandal and a president who carried 49 states was threatened with impeachment and removal from office,” according to the political analyst Michael Barone.

Democrats, rightly sensing what awaits them in November, are nearly panic-stricken.

In light of what has come to pass, Mr. Chait’s writings look comical. After a disastrous August for ObamaCare, Chait declared, against all evidence, “August moved the ball pretty far down the field.” He was issuing ominous warnings about a GOP overreach on health care in September. And in October he wrote, “We’ve had months of sturm and drang, and massive attention focused on the question, Whither health care reform? It’s just quietly turned into a fait accompli.”

Au contraire. ObamaCare, while not yet dead, is in critical and perhaps terminal condition. And the damaging effects it has had on the president and the Democratic party is beyond serious dispute. Charlie Cook of National Journal put it this way:

Honorable and intelligent people can disagree over the substance and details of what President Obama and congressional Democrats are trying to do on health care reform and climate change. But nearly a year after Obama’s inauguration, judging by where the Democrats stand today, it’s clear that they have made a colossal miscalculation.

Clear, that is, to everyone but Jonathan Chait. He is in the uncomfortable position of having to explain how the Obama presidency and liberalism have gone off the rails in the past year, a year devoted to trying to pass massively unpopular health-care legislation championed by people like Chait. Rather than coming to grips with reality, though, Chait has opted for self-delusion. In his January 19 column, for example, Jonathan was reduced to writing things like this:

The perception has formed, perhaps indelibly, that the reason Democrats will get hammered in the 2010 elections is that the party moved too far left in general and tried to reform health care in particular. This perception owes itself, above all, to the habit that political analysts in the media and other outposts of mainstream thought have of ignoring structural factors.

So Obama and the Democrats find themselves on the precipice, not because of health care, but because of “structural factors.” Of course. Scott Brown famously won his Massachusetts Senate race by promising to be the 41st vote against “structural factors.”

It is all rather pathetic.

The New Republic was once one of the nation’s leading journals of opinion. It was the home of first-rate thinkers and first-rate writers. Today it is the home of Jonathan Chait.

It has been a long and dramatic decline.

Read Less




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