The Worst Political Column of All Time

Patrick Caddell and Doug Schoen have built a name for themselves as “Fox News Democrats” — the pundits conservatives use to show the world that “even Democrats” agree with their attacks on Barack Obama (he is a hyper-partisan socialist) and liberals as a whole. In fact, most of their work is centered on the premise that Democrats can only succeed if they jetison any semblence of liberalism from their agenda.

This is the proper context for their latest op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, which — to put it lightly — is a nightmare. Their argument is straightforward: Barack Obama has been a hyper-partisan disaster for the Democratic Party, and “should abandon his candidacy for re-election in favor of a clear alternative,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They describe the former First Lady and New York Senator in glowing terms:

Never before has there been such an obvious potential successor—one who has been a loyal and effective member of the president’s administration, who has the stature to take on the office, and who is the only leader capable of uniting the country around a bipartisan economic and foreign policy.

This is where they make their first major error (the entire thesis notwithstanding). President Obama isn’t responsible for political disagreement on most issues of economic and foreign policy. Democrats and Republicans believe different things about what the country should look like, and how the country should be governed, and there is nothing a president can do to change that. To put it on a more elemental level, the United States is a pluralistic society of hundreds of millions of people who disagree on countless issues. Not only is constant agreement impossible, it’s not particularly desirable either.

But this is only the beginning— from here on, Caddell and Schoen continue to impress with shoddy analysis and a weak grasp of basic facts. For example, watch as they confuse “opinion” with empirically verifiable information:

With his job approval ratings below 45% overall and below 40% on the economy, the president cannot affirmatively make the case that voters are better off now than they were four years ago. He—like everyone else—knows that they are worse off.

Four years ago, the economy had bottomed out and the world was on the verge of a second Great Depression. Today, that’s not true. Indeed, since the recession officially ended a year and a half ago, the economy has added 2.56 million private-sector jobs. Yes, unemployment is still high and economic growth isn’t as strong as it should be, but it strains credibility to say that the country is worse off today than it was when Obama took office. Still, it’s this lackluster economy that explains Obama’s poor standing with the public. But don’t tell this to Caddell and Schoen, who continue to insist that Obama’s political troubles are a product of his egregious liberalism:

One year ago in these pages, we warned that if President Obama continued down his overly partisan road, the nation would be “guaranteed two years of political gridlock at a time when we can ill afford it.” The result has been exactly as we predicted: stalemate in Washington, fights over the debt ceiling, an inability to tackle the debt and deficit, and paralysis exacerbating market turmoil and economic decline.

That the Republican Party made a sharp turn to the far-right and embarked on a program of categorical opposition seems to have never happened in the imaginary world of Caddell and Schoen, where Barack Obama exists as the nation’s only political actor. In the world as we know it, right-wing Republicans used their clout within the House of Representatives to take the economy hostage and threaten catastrophe if their extremist demands weren’t met. This wasn’t Obama’s finest hour, but that had more to do with his infinite willingness to compromise, not some bout of rabid partisanship.

The kicker to this column comes in two parts. Caddell and Schoen tout Hillary Clinton’s popularity among the American public as evidence for their view that Obama should step down. This ignores the very obvious fact Clinton’s high approval ratings have everything to do with the fact that she’s completely disengaged from domestic arguments. As soon as she stepped into the fray, the public’s partisan attitudes would activate, and Americans would remember that she is a Democrat. Odds are very good that they’ll evaluate her in the same light that they currently evaluate President Obama.

The most ridiculous thing in the whole column comes when Caddell and Schoen make the baseless assertion that Republicans would negotiate if Obama were to withdraw:

If President Obama were to withdraw, he would put great pressure on the Republicans to come to the table and negotiate—especially if the president singularly focused in the way we have suggested on the economy, job creation, and debt and deficit reduction. By taking himself out of the campaign, he would change the dynamic from who is more to blame—George W. Bush or Barack Obama?—to a more constructive dialogue about our nation’s future.

Up until this point, I assumed that this column was an exercise in willfull ignorance from Caddell and Schoen. This makes it clear that we’re dealing with the worst kind of Beltway cynicism. If Obama were to withdraw, Republicans would rejoice under the correct assumption that the 2012 election is theirs — what rational public would trust the presidency with a Democratic Party that’s this dysfunctional? Far from compromising, the GOP would become all the more instransigent. After all, all they have to do is wait, and they’ll have the presidency.

The Wall Street Journal op-ed page isn’t known for its insightful analysis, but this is terrible —even for them — and they should be ashamed of themselves for publishing it. As for Caddell and Schoen, this column officially outs them as the Worst Pundits of All Time. Lazy, cynical, and deeply ill-informed, they are to political analysis what Asher Roth is to hip-hop and good taste.

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