Obama Democrats Accent Bullying Over Governing

May 5 (Bloomberg) — So Michele Bachmann's version of history is "from another planet." Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, is "chronically stupid." And Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking Republican in the House, is "busy lying constantly."

That at least is according to posts on three left-leaning blogs.

Writers who are not pro-Barack Obama are suffering character assassination as well. George Will of the Washington Post, the nation's senior conservative columnist, has been so assaulted by bloggers that his editor, Fred Hiatt, recently wrote, "I would think folks would be eager to engage in the debate, given how sure they are of their case, rather than trying to shut him down."

The disconcerting thing isn't that the bloggers or their guests did this slamming. We're used to such vitriol in campaign time. What is surprising is that the attacks are continuing after an election.

In the past, politicians and policy thinkers tended to be magnanimous in victory. They and their friends focused, post-victory, on policy and strategy — not on trashing individuals.

It ought to be especially true this time, given what wonders are befalling the Democrats. Between Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania and Al Franken in Minnesota, it looks like the Democrats are in the process of making their Senate majority filibuster-proof. Then there's the president's new opportunity to mold the Supreme Court, with the resignation of David Souter.

Still, somehow, the magnanimity isn't there. Indeed, the closer the Democrats get to total power, the nastier the commentators friendly to them have become.

Wild Internet

The explanation for this perpetual venom is threefold, and starts with the Internet. Years ago, out of a sense of civics, gentle and gentlemanly newspaper editors used to allow a certain honeymoon period post-election. Winners got to bask, and losers sulk.

Internet scribes are not into civics. Most bloggers lack editors: Even as he attacked Bachmann for errors, the author on The New Republic's Plank blog misspelled her name. Even when editors are involved, they often leave blogs alone, on the lazy premise that spontaneity outranks accuracy.

Another force at work is the relevance of history. The most recent attack on Bachmann came after she misspoke and called the 1930 tariff "Hoot-Smalley" rather than its accurate name, Smoot-Hawley. Bachmann also implied that Franklin Roosevelt signed the tariff into law, rather than its actual signator, Herbert Hoover.

Biden's Slip

Vice President Joseph Biden made much larger slips when talking about the same period on the campaign trial. In an ecstasy of anachronism, he toldKatie Couric, "When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on television and didn't just talk about the princes of greed. He said, 'Look, here's what happened.'"

The problem for Bachmann was also her implication that the New Dealers' policies failed to bring recovery. Since this happens to be accurate, it's a sensitive point, as I myself have noted watching the bile poured on my own 2007 book on the period.

But the most important factor here is Democratic weakness. The party isn't comfortable yet at the summit of political power.

The unsteadiness began with Obama: Instead of shaping the stimulus package himself, according to his own principles, he handed over the work to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House Appropriations chairman, who in turn produced a porky package without discernible philosophy.

Unsure Policies

Unsure of whether it wanted to punish or stimulate — and so choosing to attempt both — the administration generated legislation to help financial institutions and legislation that hurts them by restricting rates and terms for the credit cards they issue. Obama's call for putting more student loans in federal hands is clever politically, and may even save students money in the short term, but it likely will restrict the availability of such loans in the future.

In short, Obama speaks beautifully but is on his way to a "D" grade when it comes to making the U.S. attractive for international investment, a fact the Chinese are already noting by shopping for non-U.S. bonds.

The Democrats of 2009 are showing less awareness than their predecessors did in President Bill Clinton's time on the importance of low taxes and reasonable regulation. Only these permit strong growth, a point made articulately by none other than Bachmann herself, in the now-infamous "Hoot-Smalley" TV clip.

Mission to Distract

Because the ruling Democrats have tilted too far left, their allies are out on a mission of distraction, trying to prove that everyone else is too far to the right. On the key question of trade, Americans are pretty sympathetic to Bachmann's pro-trade views, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Citizens don't necessarily line up with the protectionist unions and House Speaker Pelosi.

So here's a new motto: more leadership, less bloggership. Voters tend to tire the ad hominem approach. By smearing others, rather than putting forward ideas, the scribblers smear themselves instead.

(Amity Shlaes, author of "The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression" is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

© Copyright 2009 Bloomberg

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