The Magazine

A Low Dishonest Administration

Jun 10, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 37 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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We'’ll take the liberty of updating, for the summer of 2013, the famous lines from Auden’s “September 1, 1939”:

We sit in our office

On Seventeenth Street

Depressed but with anticipation

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest administration.

It is depressing. We the people reelected Barack Obama. We’re stuck with him for three and a half more years. That’s three and a half more years of dissembling about his administration’s scandals, blocking the repeal of Obamacare, and pursuing a foreign policy of weakness and retreat. That’s not just depressing. It’s dangerous.

But it’s also an opportunity. House Republicans should be able to pursue their oversight responsibilities in a way that serves the public interest in checking a wayward executive while also (at least implicitly) making the case against a sprawling and unaccountable big government. The evident exhaustion of liberalism’s policy agenda should allow conservatives to spend less time playing defense and go on offense in a host of areas. The existence of impressive governors and imaginative younger members of Congress offers the possibility for fresh thinking on several fronts. The likely electoral weakness of the Democratic party in 2014 increases the likelihood of strong and unconventional Republican candidates throwing their hats in the electoral ring.

The early signs for 2016 are encouraging too. For one thing, the White House usually turns over after eight years (as it usually does not after four). The only modern exception to the eight-year rotation was George H. W. Bush’s victory in 1988—and if the country were to be in as good shape in 2016 as it was in 1988, after eight years of Ronald Reagan, the incumbent party would have a decent chance to win yet another presidential term. But that seems unlikely.

And the presumed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, isn’t likely to be a strong candidate. She wasn’t in 2008. She has no accomplishments of note to point to from either her eight years in the Senate or four years as secretary of state. In any case, a close association with the Obama administration’s foreign policy is unlikely to be a recommendation for the Oval Office in 2016. Republicans will field (presumably) a younger candidate—and the younger nominee has won the popular vote in every post-Cold War presidential election.

Furthermore, as Nate Cohn recently pointed out in the New Republic, it’s not just that Clinton is unlikely to maintain her current high popularity ratings once she descends again into the maelstrom of electoral politics. Even now, after all the fawning press coverage of her tenure at State, national polls show her at only around 51 or 52 percent against Republicans with much lower name identification, “while state polls typically show Clinton near Obama’s share of the vote. .  .  . In the critical battleground states of the Midwest and West, Clinton actually appears to be doing worse than Obama. Not only do recent surveys show her below 50 percent in Colorado and Iowa, but she leads candidates like Rand Paul by just 4 points in Iowa and 3 points in Colorado—worse than Obama’s 5-plus point victories in those states.” If all Clinton can do now in polls, at her high-water mark, is replicate Obama’s 2012 showing, Republicans can look ahead to 2016 with hope, even some degree of confidence.

The conservative future could and should be bright. But as Hillary Clinton herself is fond of saying, coulda, shoulda, woulda. Conservatives and Republicans have a good chance to be masters of their own fate. So if in 2017 there isn’t a new president moving aggressively to implement a reform conservative governing agenda, then we will have to say, switching from Auden to Shakespeare,

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings. 

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