The method to Obama’s madness

My friend Ray Hartwell agrees with my analysis of President Obama’s approach to immigration, and he connects it to a larger point:

As with what many have called his inept handling of the Gulf oil spill, I think Obama is just fine with the deterioration of the situation on the border, for it may provide him exactly the opportunity you mention: a chance to enact sweeping “amnesty” legislation that will put a few million more Democratic votes in his pocket.
One thing bothers me about a lot of recent commentary, and that’s the repeated assertion that Obama is incompetent. I don’t think he is incompetent at all when it comes to the issues that matter to him and his inner circle. He is all about transforming the country and perpetuating the power of his administration and its ideological allies.
When one considers what he’s done and is doing in that light, then it’s not too hard to see how he and his allies may think that they are making steady progress and, more often than not, surmounting what they knew would be formidable public opposition.
They have nationalized two major auto manufacturers in near lawless fashion. They have shut down offshore oil drilling, and closed the Yucca Mountain nuclear fuel storage project, through orders found to be illegal by federal courts. Whatever the ultimate outcome, they’ve succeeded in killing two industries they don’t like.
They have passed legislation that essentially nationalizes the health care industry, and rolled into that same package a takeover of the student loan business. Their trillion or so in assorted “stimulus” spending has really been a pork barrel festival of unprecedented scope, doing a great deal to reward constituencies and create new fiefdoms, and little or nothing to create real jobs. The financial reform legislation promises to do more of the same as it consolidates their control over much of the financial industry.
At the same time they have created myriad new government jobs, peopled with supporters and prospects for AFSCME or other union dues that will fund campaign coffers. Across a broad front they foster dependence on government, and seek to silence opponents and shut down the private sector.
With respect to major legislation, they’ve come up with an approach that works very well for them, especially [with regardt] to avoiding actual disclosure and discussion of the particulars of their plans. They meet behind closed doors with allies and favored constituents, to craft massive bills (2000 pages here, 3000 there, 1500 in another case) that contain innumerable provisions that could not pass if exposed to the light of day. These bills are then voted through on an entirely partisan basis, and they are law before anyone has the ability to examine their contents carefully.
This approach is working, even though it is of course completely at odds with Obama’s campaign rhetoric about reform and transparency. But he cares about what works, not about keeping his word. For this administration, deception of the public is an effective tool that will be used as often as necessary to achieve its goals. Because the mainstream media continue largely to be complicit in all of this, the administration’s dishonesty is not exposed the way it should be. (Coming up on the anniversary of his charge that the President lies, Joe Wilson has a very high batting average.)
So I conclude that Obama and his administration are not incompetent at all. Critics and commentators who conclude they are do so by reference to conventional standards of competence. They do not evaluate what Obama is really about. And by the standards of what he seeks to achieve, one can make a case that he has made tremendous “progress” towards his goals.

I agree with the thrust of this analysis. Obama has relentlessly pursued his transformative agenda without worrying about the political capital being expended. He assumed, I think, that he would replenish that capital as the economy improved.
But the improvement has been insufficient for that purpose. Thus, Obama’s approach to legislating (described by Ray above) will probably reach its expiration date by the end of the year.
After the November elections, I expect Obama, undaunted, to use his remaining power to push as relentlessly as he can for his transformative agenda. It was not for nothing that Obama criticized Bill Clinton for backing off following the 1994 election. Obama figures that even if he’s a one-term president, he will have accomplished more than Clinton did in two. And that’s probably sound thinking.
JOHN adds: There are several variations on this kind of thinking, and I’m not certain which one either Ray or Paul is endorsing. Some believe that Obama is deliberately pursuing policies that he knows will damage the country, because he thinks he can take political advantage of the ensuing crisis. Thus, there is a school of thought that he has purposely rendered the government’s Gulf oil spill response ineffective so that he can transfer billions of dollars in wealth into subsidizing “green” (i.e., inefficient) energy. I don’t take Ray or Paul to be endorsing this view.
Alternatively, it may be that Obama doesn’t much care whether his policies damage the country, or what voters think about them. All he cares about is moving the country as far to the left as he can, while he has the chance. I understand both Ray and Paul to support this interpretation.
The difference is perhaps small, but I would interpret events somewhat differently. I think that Obama is shellshocked at how poorly things are going for him and for his administration. I think he is so ignorant of both economics and history that he believed his policies would work much better than they have, and I suspect he is more or less horrified at the mess he has made of his first year and a half in office, both in foreign and–more important to him–domestic policy.
It is true, of course, that the Democrats have done a lot in that time, but I don’t attribute this to any great competence on their part. They have the votes. It’s remarkable, perhaps, that they haven’t done more.
The real question is where Obama goes from here. Unlike Bill Clinton, I don’t think he is either smart enough or flexible enough to figure out that he misjudged the effects (political and otherwise) that his policies would have, and change direction. I expect him to stay the course and go down with the ship, looking all the while like a deer in the headlights.
PAUL adds: I agree with John that Obama miscalculated as to where the economy would be by now. As I said, he was, I believe, relying on a robust recovery to replenish his political capital. Obama is, no doubt, dismayed by the economy’s performance, but I don’t see evidence that he’s shellshocked. To me, he seems just as self-assured and certainly just as aggressive as before.
I also think that John undervalues Obama’s accomplishments a little bit. Health care legislation looked to be dead when Scott Brown was elected in January. Passing legislation that unpopular, even with healthy margins in Congress, wasn’t easy. Moreover, votes alone are enough to bring about major transformation; you also need the audacity to formulate and insist upon aggressive programs. Obama has that, as some of Ray’s examples illustrate.
Foreign policy needs to be analyzed separately, I think, and late Friday night isn’t the time to attempt it. So I’ll just note my skepticism of John’s claim that Obama believes he has made a mess in this realm. While Obama measures domestic success in part (but only in part) the same way we do, that’s not at all the case when it comes to foreign policy, in my view.