Krauthammer knows a dare when he sees it

KRAUTHAMMER KNOWS A DARE WHEN HE SEES IT…. The very first sentence in Charles Krauthammer’s column today raises a dubious point: “The November election sent a clear message to Washington: less government, less debt, less spending.”

It may not have been as “clear” as Krauthammer prefers to believe. Republicans obviously did very well in November, but the results were largely the consequence of a lousy economy. If it’s “clear” that the electorate thinks exactly the same way Krauthammer does — it’s funny how that always seems to happen in conservatives’ columns — why did exit polls show Republicans with such weak support? Why do polls continue to show President Obama’s standing improving, and Americans preferring the Democratic agenda to the Republicans’?

The column goes on to complain that the White House refuses to perceive public attitudes the way Krauthammer does, and instead seems to be daring his political rivals.

President Obama certainly heard [the message from the midterm elections], but judging from his State of the Union address, he doesn’t believe a word of it. The people say they want cuts? Sure they do — in the abstract. But any party that actually dares carry them out will be punished severely. […]

One almost has to admire Obama’s defiance. His 2009 stimulus and budget-busting health-care reform are precisely what stirred the popular revolt that delivered his November shellacking. And yet he’s back for more.

It’s as if Obama is daring the voters — and the Republicans — to prove they really want smaller government.

Oddly enough, I think Krauthammer’s right about this — at least the last part. He’s completely at odds with reality about the stimulus, the Affordable Care Act, and the midterm results, but when it comes to the White House message, Krauthammer’s point is actually pretty compelling. Obama very likely thinks budget cuts are easier to talk about than execute, and wouldn’t mind at all if Republicans came up with a detailed proposal that could be subjected to scrutiny and debate.

Greg Sargent had a smart take on this: “As David Axelrod has already spelled out quite explicitly, President Obama is also daring the new Republican majority to show how they would achieve the dramatically downsized government they say they want, and betting that once they get specific, the voters will prefer his vision to theirs.”

It’s a bet with strong odds. Americans tend to like the idea of slashing spending, right up until they’re asked specific areas of the budget, at which point most of the country thinks otherwise.

Of course, Republicans are welcome to call Obama’s bluff, and push forward with their plans to slash spending, curtail services, lay off public workers, gut the health care system, privatize entitlements, and as of this morning, cut veterans’ benefits.

If Boehner, Cantor, and company think Krauthammer’s right and Obama’s dare is misguided, they’re certainly welcome to take their chances.