Russ Douthat's morning column in the New York Times is worth a moment, even if you tend to disagree with him. The core message is that in its selection of issues to focus on the Obama administration has unaccountably reversed the priorities of American public opinion.
This January, as President Obama began his second term, the Pew Research Center asked Americans to list their policy priorities for 2013. Huge majorities cited jobs and the economy; sizable majorities cited health care costs and entitlement reform; more modest majorities cited fighting poverty and reforming the tax code. Down at the bottom of the list, with less than 40 percent support in each case, were gun control, immigration and climate change....Commentary
Yet six months later, the public’s non-priorities look like the entirety of the White House’s second-term agenda...
[G]un control, immigration reform and climate change aren’t just random targets of opportunity. They’re pillars of Acela Corridor ideology, core elements of Bloombergism, places where Obama-era liberalism overlaps with the views of Davos-goers and the Wall Street 1 percent. If you move in those circles, the political circumstances don’t necessarily matter: these ideas always look like uncontroversial common sense.
Step outside those circles, though, and the timing of their elevation looks at best peculiar, at worst perverse. The president decided to make gun control legislation a major second-term priority ... with firearm homicides at a 30-year low. Congress is pursuing a sharp increase in low-skilled immigration ... when the foreign-born share of the American population is already headed for historical highs. The administration is drawing up major new carbon regulations ... when actual existing global warming has been well below projections for 15 years and counting.
What’s more, on the issues that Americans actually prioritize — jobs, wages, the economy — it’s likely that both immigration reform and whatever the White House decides to do on greenhouse gases will make the short-term picture somewhat worse. The Congressional Budget Office’s recent analysis of the immigration bill errs on the side of optimism, but it still projects that the legislation would leave unemployment “slightly elevated” through 2020, and average wages modestly reduced. Given that similar estimates greeted the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill in 2009, it’s reasonable to assume that carbon regulations would slightly raise the unemployment rate as well.
Of course, no thoughtful citizen believes that we elect our representatives only to execute our fleeting preferences, but rather to exercise their judgment in the long-term best interests of the country. Presumably, President Obama is doing that, liberated as he is from any further sanction at the ballot box.
Unfortunately, four and half years along he has accumulated a vast reservoir of distrust which makes it very challenging for him to accomplish anything. His administration's delight in massive legislation that few have read and nobody can understand (the ACA and Dodd-Frank), limitless delegation to regulatory agencies staffed with manifestly anti-business academics and lawyers (the NLRB, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the EPA, and the FDA, to name but a few), barely concealed contempt for Americans who share different tastes (in religion, desire to take responsibility for defending one's own household, choice of vacation destination, and other "bitter-clinger" preferences), unnerving use of governmental devices to acquire the means of controlling the citizenry (partisanship in the IRS, the anti-press investigations at Justice, and veiled threats from HHS to extract funds to implement Obamacare), and unwillingness to sacrifice any "Acela corridor" objective to do anything to improve private sector employment (Keystone, drilling on public lands, and politicizing the science to obstruct off-shore drilling, while giving money to countless failed "green energy" cronies), all together make it very difficult for even moderates to trust him on such questions as immigration, gun control, and restructuring the economy to use energy more efficiently. Put differently, even if the House were not under the dominion of particularly small-government Republicans, the American people might not trust him enough to swallow his second-term agenda.