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A Conversation on Manipulation and Consensus

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

An imaginary conversation....

Obama: You're back.

Yes indeed. Happy holidays, Mr. President.

Aren't you pushing the season a little?

Not any more than small retailers -- in the darkening economic gloom -- trying to get a jump on the season to save their bacon.

So is it the economy that's on your mind this time?

No, sir. Public sentiment -- polling and how it relates to your initiatives, and how you manipulate it to suggest consensus.

I'm not sure I like 'manipulate'. Manipulating how and on what?

On Afghanistan, for instance. While you dither and twirl, the Taliban are flushing us down the commode. The war has spread to Pakistan. Casualties and deaths mount -- with devastating bombings even the day of Hillary Clinton's Pakistan arrival.

Arguing with Idiots By Glenn Beck

Look, I'm trying to figure out how to proceed so we don't have another Iraq -- in fact, whether to proceed. I have issues with government corruption in Afghanistan. My strategic team, including Vice President Biden and Sen. Kerry, is on the case. Coalition forces in Afghanistan already outnumber the Taliban by 12-1, and Gen. McChrystal wants to switch our strategy from counter-terrorism to counter-insurgency. Little wonder that in Congress and (according to the polls) among the public, sentiment for continuing to prosecute the war is declining.

Point proven. The longer you dither, the more the news drives down support among an historically impatient populace, thus giving more credence to your decision -- later if not sooner -- to pull the plug.

Well, we need to await the outcome of the runoff elections next month.

OTHER issues abound, sir. Take health care.

I'm not manipulating anything. Nancy and Barney and Harry and Chris are quarterbacking the congressional team. Max is doing yeoman work, and Olympia alone -- a magnificent stateswoman -- is making this a truly bipartisan process. A Washington Post-ABC poll shows support for the public option now has clear majority support among the citizenry.

Exactly. Your rhetorical hammering of health insurers is having telling effect, and never mind the stellar examples of federally overseen operations such as Amtrak, the Postal Service, and entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

You're against them?

Deeply against their funding via ever-larger loads on the taxpayers' collapsing backs -- backs that your public option, on top of the trillions you already have thrown at the economy, would utterly crush.

But the polls say this is what rising percentages of the people want. Sociologists would call it a consensus.

You continue to make my case. Sociologists? Sir, the people do not want their backs broken. They do not want a ponzi scheme of debt piled on their children and grandchildren. And they do not want the skyrocketing inflation necessary even to hope about paying those debts off. Certainly no unblinkered, knowing public would choose either the road to serfdom or the road to ruin.

So it's not consensus -- not the popular will?

MR. PRESIDENT, some would call it a manipulated outcome -- manipulated by you and the White House through what remains of the press. Your inability to manipulate Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, for example, goes far toward explaining some of your recent behaviors. Health insurers, Fox, the Chamber of Commerce: In your vaunted post-partisan presidency, why the war against them if it's not that you can't control them -- can't manipulate them, as well?

They're outside the consensus and need to be brought in or punished. They need to accept re-education. In their recalcitrant mode, they are useful targets -- even necessary targets to get the agenda accomplished: Afghanistan, health care, and the rest.

The polls are saying unions are heading down toward the public popularity of Congress. If they are outside your 'consensus,' why don't you hammer them? And the polls are sending mixed messages about global warming (cap-and-trade) and don't-ask-don't-tell.

We'll get them fixed -- if not now, then later. Let me be clear: When we're through, we'll have significant carbon-control legislation, and we'll fully open the door of the military closet. With those issues and others, as we're seeing with Afghanistan and health care, all we need is time. The polls will tell us when.

The polls will tell you when your manipulation has produced the appearance of consensus?

They'll tell us when we have, in fact, achieved consensus.

Sir, with the polls giving you higher negatives and lower approvals, could we say you're losing your consensus -- about you? And on issues such as Afghanistan and health care, what ever happened to principle -- advancing liberty and doing the right thing amid the unmitigated, unmanipulated free flow of ideas?

There you go again with your 'manipulation' word. Particularly when trying to clean up someone else's mess -- as I am with the Augean stable left me by Bush and Cheney -- I don't believe it is possible to manipulate a consensus.

We'll just have to have our own consensus -- and agree to disagree. Maybe you'll disagree with this then, too -- from Britain's late great Margaret Thatcher: "For me, pragmatism is not enough. Nor is that fashionable word consensus....To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects -- the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner, 'I stand for consensus'?"

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