Daniel Henninger is at it again. Faithful readers of his "Wonder Land" column in The Wall Street Journal have learned to expect regular installments on Thursdays of his latest aperÁus into our Presidentís own Wonder Land or, to be more precise, Fantasy Land. Today marks a kind of culmination, as Mr Henninger remarks on Mr Obamaís magician-like skill at making uncongenial realities disappear. Whether it is the poor economic numbers that have dogged him throughout his three years in office or the dangerous international trouble spots which never seem to require any difficult or politically costly interventions from him, he is a master at continuing to stand, as he did in 2008, untainted in a featureless present between a regrettable past (created by other people) and a radiant future (promised by himself).
Mr Henninger has hit similar notes before in columns headed "Obamaís Mythical America" and "Obamaís Virtual Economy." Hereís what he wrote in that one:
With his recently announced campaign platform ó An Economy Built to Last ó President Obama has essentially constructed a virtual economy. Instead of the economy we all live in, heís making one up and inviting us to pretend we are living in it. Welcome to the Sim City Economy. Sim City, one of the most popular products ever in the imaginary world of video games, lets players bring to life towns of their own devising in great detail. Itís endless fun, fiddling with the dials on the real world.
Thus the President habitually touts the success (as he sees it) of his bailout of General Motors as if it amounted to a return to 1960 not only for GM but for Detroit and, potentially, for the entire Rust Belt. The idea is ridiculous, but we who are laughing with Mr Henninger had better hang onto that ridiculousness at least as tightly as he is doing, because its coming right back at us from the other side. Thus Joe Biden at a Democratic fund-raiser: "These guys donít have a sense of the average folks out there," he said, referring to Republicans. "They donít know what it means to be middle class." The Examiner wryly added that "87 guests paid a minimum of $10,000-per-couple to attend the dinner," but that irony may prove a little too subtle for those who are able to hear only the left echoing against the right the charge that the right has been making against the left. Fred Hiatt of The Washington Post is the bookend to Dan Henninger of the Journal when he writes that at the last Republican debate, "the remaining candidates seemed to be continuing their drift from reality." The question is, which party gets to claim "reality" as its own?
If the echo effect involved charges merely of corruption or foolishness or wickedness or insanity people might well conclude that there was some truth on both sides, but the symmetry involved in complementary assertions of estrangement from reality might suggest to some that one side must be right and the other wrong. Well, which is it? The Rs or the Ds who are the fantasists? If people could be sure which of the two really are out of touch with reality, then they could perhaps be equally sure that the other were in touch with it. If only it were so easy! In fact, the whole political dialogue in America now and for some time past has taken place in a fantastical Never-neverland because that is where the media want it to take place.
Partly this is because both fantasy and the media will tend to favor the more naturally utopian party, who are and are always likely to be the Democrats. But it is also partly because fantasy is easier for the media to sell than reality. There will always be an easily excitable audience for stories about a Republican "War on Women," even if it is a merely fantastical one. Perhaps especially if it is a fantastical one. Likewise Mittís dog-on-the-roof or Newtís wives or Rickís eccentric views on contraception. Not so easy, however, is selling people on proposals for what to do about the deficit ó unless it is the merely fantastical idea of Paul Krugmanís to ignore it in the expectation that it will simply go away when a properly stimulated economy comes roaring back. Reality is pretty much always a tough sell that the media and politicians of both parties will prefer, for very different reasons, to avoid.