‘We Don’t Suck As Much!’ A Motto Your Party Can Honestly Embrace

Dumbing victory down, Democrats and GOP measure themselves not by problems fixed but by Pyrrhic battles won.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (C), R-OH and National Security Advisor Susan Rice listen as US President Barack Obama delivers a statement on Syria during a meeting with members of Congress at the White House in Washington, DC, September 3, 2013.
Ron Fournier
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Ron Fournier
July 16, 2014, 1 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama has won the de­bate over how to deal with the im­mig­ra­tion crisis on the south­ern bor­der. That is, if you ac­cept the White House’s dumbed-down defin­i­tion of suc­cess: Be a little less bad than the Re­pub­lic­ans.

You’ve heard the least-lousy spin be­fore. Obama’s job ap­prov­al rat­ings are at the low­est point of his pres­id­ency, but House Speak­er John Boehner’s num­bers are much lower.

The Demo­crat­ic Party is bleed­ing voters to the in­de­pend­ent column, but more voters are bolt­ing the GOP.

The pub­lic’s faith in the pres­id­ency it at a near-re­cord low, but lice and cock­roaches are stat­ist­ic­ally more pop­u­lar than Con­gress.

It’s in­dis­put­ably true that Obama’s first term fell far short of his prom­ise—Amer­ic­ans lost their au­da­city to hope for change—but he won a second term! After a bru­tally neg­at­ive reelec­tion cam­paign, Re­pub­lic­an Mitt Rom­ney was found to be a few per­cent­age points less ac­cept­able than the in­cum­bent. That was no ac­ci­dent. In The Mes­sage, a book by lib­er­al au­thor Richard Wolffe, Obama strategist Dav­id Axel­rod re­calls the joke about two men who chance upon a bear in the woods. One freezes. The oth­er starts run­ning, know­ing he doesn’t have to out­run the bear; he just has to out­run his pal. “So the elect­or­ate was the bear,” Axel­rod says, “but all we had to do was out­run Rom­ney.”

The Demo­crat­ic Party motto ought to be, “We don’t suck as much!”

That’s the best news out of a Wash­ing­ton Post/ABC News poll on the in­flux of un­ac­com­pan­ied for­eign chil­dren along the Texas bor­der. Nearly six out of 10 Amer­ic­ans (58 per­cent) dis­ap­prove of Obama’s man­age­ment of the crisis, in­clud­ing 54 per­cent of His­pan­ics.

But, wait, the GOP num­bers are worse! This from a lib­er­al mouth­piece: 


Yes, two-thirds of those polled dis­ap­prove of how Re­pub­lic­ans law­makers have ad­dressed the is­sues, in­clud­ing about half of all GOP voters.

That should be little con­sol­a­tion for a pres­id­ent who called im­mig­ra­tion re­form a top second-term pri­or­ity, a bow to the His­pan­ic com­munity that gave him 70 per­cent of its votes and now dis­ap­proves of his hand­ling of the bor­der crisis.

Obama blames the fail­ure of re­form on House Speak­er John Boehner and oth­er Re­pub­lic­an law­makers who won’t defy their anti-am­nesty base, which is a fair as­sess­ment of the situ­ation today. But the pres­id­ent re­fuses to ac­know­ledge that re­forms also failed to pass a Demo­crat­ic-con­trolled Con­gress in 2009 and 2010, when cer­tain lead­ers of his party—if not the pres­id­ent him­self—pre­ferred not to fix the prob­lem and lose a cudgel against Re­pub­lic­ans.

Facts are nettle­some things, and com­pet­ency is not a pre­requis­ite for polit­ic­al suc­cess if the oth­er side acts worse. For­tu­nately for the Demo­crat­ic Party, the GOP of­ten ob­liges.

The White House is count­ing on its least-lousy frame to pre­vail this fall in red states where Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors are cling­ing to their seats. The strategy is es­sen­tially to tell voters, You’re not happy with your Demo­crat­ic sen­at­or or the pres­id­ent, but the Re­pub­lic­an chal­lenger is so ex­treme that don’t have an al­tern­at­ive. A GOP can­did­ate like Tom Cot­ton in Arkan­sas may be far enough out­side the main­stream for the plan to work, as it did in 2010 and 2012 to dis­qual­i­fy some Re­pub­lic­an chal­lengers.

The cyn­ic­al strategy works for Re­pub­lic­ans, too. In 2004, Pres­id­ent Bush knew the pub­lic was turn­ing against him, so he es­sen­tially ar­gued that he wasn’t as bad as Demo­crat John Kerry. Today, the House GOP de­flects cri­ti­cism by com­par­ing the size of its warts to the Demo­crats’.

This is no way to run a coun­try. When both parties in a two-party sys­tem meas­ure them­selves not by prom­ises kept and prob­lems solved but by the Pyrrhic vic­tor­ies awar­ded to least-lousy com­batants, you get what we’ve got in this coun­try: Re­cord-low trust in gov­ern­ment, a broken polit­ic­al sys­tem, and a deeply dis­il­lu­sioned pub­lic. These may be the sad legacies of both Boehner and Obama.

To those on the far right and far left who will ac­cuse me of “false equi­val­ence,” I beg your par­don and say, OK, the oth­er side sucks a bit more. Feel bet­ter? The rest of us don’t.

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