Fred Barnes: Journalist, Apologist, Magician? genre: Econ-Recon & Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Wizard Behind The Curtain

Fred Barnes, in an editorial at the Wall Street Journal, offers his manifesto for Republican resurgence. Unfortunately, from my perspective, the piece is a textbook demonstration of the degree to which GOP insiders haven't a clue with regards to the concerns of ordinary Americans as well as the existing political realities. Even worse, much of the piece is an exercise in the "if only" mentality one might expect to find in the Harry Potter world of fantasy and magic. The following excerpt is wholly illustrative.

Clearly the war hurt, more than a little. Just as clearly, a turnaround in Iraq would help enormously.

But even if the "surge" is as successful as it appears it might be, there's a problem. While public support has increased recently, the war still faces deep-seated opposition. There's a widespread view that its cost in lives, money and national prestige has been too high. This won't change overnight. Public opinion isn't quite that fickle.

It's not immutable, however. What if military success by Gen. David Petraeus, the American commander, is matched by a political breakthrough engineered by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki? Or matched by the acceleration of political reconciliation at the provincial rather than the national level in Iraq? Either scenario is possible.

I'm willing to concede that anything is possible in this world of uncertainty...but to assume that all of the above will transpire seems akin to Mr. Barnes believing that he holds the winning Power Ball ticket. Yes, it could happen...but it is hardly a reasoned piece of journalistic conjecture.

While Barnes is imagining a political breakthrough, Senator Levin and others are suggesting that the Maliki government is not only an obstacle to progress; it may need to be removed for any hope of political reconciliation to emerge. Shouldn't a Wall Street Journal piece offer more than the fanciful thought one might find on a slip of paper removed from a fortune cookie?

For the sake of those within the GOP who are actually seeking a blueprint for a return to relevance, may I suggest that the content of this editorial may not be the horse upon which to hitch their hopes?

Mr. Bush can't erase the memory of his inept handling of Hurricane Katrina. But if another disaster occurred and the president responded effectively, that would counteract the memory of his Katrina performance.

OK, if this is part of the Barnes plan, why not be bold and ask Pat Robertson and the 700 Club to pray that god's wrath be brought upon another sinful city so that the President can redeem his poor performance. Never mind that this sounds like Barnes is wishing America experience a natural disaster in order to achieve political gain.

As I recall, each time a Democrat has mentioned the possibility of a terrorist attack and that we are no safer as a result of the invasion of Iraq, the GOP has pounced upon such statements as vile, unpatriotic demonstrations of blatant partisanship...going so far as to argue that the Democrats hate America and calling such statements a willingness to sacrifice American lives for political capital. Conversely, is hoping for a natural disaster a noble cause if it helps the GOP?

On fiscal issues, Democrats foolishly dismissed the president's insistence on cutting $22 billion from overall discretionary spending, claiming it was a puny amount. To them, it is. To the public, it's not. A veto war on spending bills is likely to work in Mr. Bush's favor, though not if weak-willed congressional Republicans cut and run. Should it lead to a government shutdown--call it the shutdown trap--that would be all the more harmful to Democrats.

On taxes, Democrats appear confident there's no trap at all, so long as they don't raise taxes on the middle class. Thus congressional Democrats have felt free to pass tax hikes this year on energy companies, foreign corporations and cigarettes, and they're poised to repeal the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $200,000 a year.

Republicans believe Democrats have misread their mandate on taxes. We'll see.

Fred, where have you been while this President has nearly doubled the national debt from 5 trillion to 9 trillion? Have you forgotten that this is the President who enacted the largest entitlement program in recent history with the passage of his prescription drug benefit? When the Democrats fail to get excited about 22 billion dollars, they do so while pointing to the borrow and spend backdrop that has typified the Bush administration.

As to the tax hikes which Barnes feels will hurt the Democrats, clearly the number of Americans impacted by such increases is miniscule...but then again, I doubt Barnes spends much time with ordinary citizens. Frankly, Barnes might want to consider the possibility that voters have grown weary of tax cut promises from the GOP. Putting a few dollars into a voters pocket...while at the same time taking it out through inflation, wage stagnation, a suspect economy, declining home prices and sales, tightening credit, and the expenditure of 10 to 12 billion dollars each month on an endless war effort...doesn't seem like much of a winning strategy.

They practically invited Democrats to trump them on ethics and lobbying reform. And they've allowed their obsession with illegal immigrants to get out of hand. This drives away Hispanic voters and leaves the impression that Republicans are small-minded, ungenerous and nasty. The worst offenders are the presidential candidates, who would be wise to tone down their rhetoric on immigration.

Yes, nothing like embracing a strategy premised upon the notion that a leopard can suddenly lose its spots. The glaring omission in this suggestion is any understanding of where the GOP actually stands with regards to immigration...other than where Barnes posits may be most politically advantageous. Perhaps the fact that the Republican Party seems to treat this and so many other issues as nothing more than political calculations is what is troubling voters?

From my vantage point, Republican candidates have spent years using the immigration issue to pander to competing constituents such that the majority of the wells have been poisoned and the kool-aid is no longer potable. Weaving a workable message at this point would be akin to pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

As Karl Rove has noted, Republicans need a big idea. The best available is the one Mr. Bush abandoned: ownership. Allowing private investment of payroll taxes for Social Security would only be a start. An Ownership Society would allow individual Americans, rather than government, to control how and where their health care, public education, 401(k) and IRA funds are spent.

I'll give Barnes credit...if you're in the last act of a show that is undoubtedly destined to go dark...you might as well pull out all of the stops. Sadly, like most men who become enamored with their own self-interest, Barnes' Ownership Society finale is little more than the wish list of a man and a Party that has not only sought to raid the cookie jar...but has also decided that it is entitled to devour all of the delicacies on the dish.

In the ultimate miscalculation, Barnes' final words ring hollow to the many voters who can't afford this months rent, who work jobs that do not provide health insurance, who couldn't put money in a 401K even if the company offered one, and who haven't the time or the energy to invest social security funds for a future they can't begin to imagine as they try to scrape together the means to put enough food on tonight's dinner table.

I hate to be the one to break this to Fred...but after reading his manifesto, the final thought that crossed my mind was that it would be far easier for voters to simply vote for the Democrats than for them to hope that the Republicans can shed their sullied skin and suddenly become the compassionate conservatives they so masterfully marketed as none other than George Bush.

In the end, the Barnes piece has served one valuable purpose...it has made it abundantly clear why voters will likely relegate the GOP to the sidelines for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, maybe Mr. Barnes and his fellow Republicans can craft the next iteration of an ill-conceived illusion. One thing is certain, they would be well advised to choose a better wizard...one that isn't quite so visibly unable to manipulate the machinery as the drapes of deception are dismantled.

Tagged as: 2008, Fred Barnes, GOP, Immigration, Iraq, Katrina, Ownership Society, Social Security, Wall Street Journal

Daniel DiRito | August 21, 2007 | 10:29 AM
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