The thrill is gone
A Return to Normalcy
By ROSS DOUTHAT
Published: December 26, 2010
Over the past three years, American politics has been dominated by a liberal fantasy and a conservative freakout.
The fantasy was the idea that Barack Obama, a one-term senator with an appealing biography and a silver tongue, would turn out to be Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Robert F. Kennedy and Mahatma Gandhi all rolled into one. This fantasy inspired a wave of 1960s-style enthusiasm, an unsettling personality cult (that “Yes We Can” video full of harmonizing celebrities only gets creepier in hindsight) and a lot of over-the-top promises from Obama himself. It persuaded Democrats that the laws of politics had been suspended, and that every legislative goal they’d ever dreamed about was now within reach. It was even powerful enough to win President Obama a Nobel Peace Prize, just for being his amazing self.
The freakout, which began in earnest during the long, hot health care summer of 2009, started from the same premise as the fantasy — that the Obama presidency really was capable of completely transforming American society and that we might be on the brink of a new New Deal or a greater Great Society. But to freaked-out conservatives, this seemed more like a nightmare than a dream. So they flipped the liberal script: Where Obama’s acolytes were utopian, conservatives turned apocalyptic, pitting liberty against tyranny, freedom against socialism, American exceptionalism against the fate of Nineveh and Tyre.
This wasn’t a congenial climate for bipartisanship, to put it mildly. The fantasy ensured that the Democrats would go for broke (quite literally, judging by the budget figures) on domestic policy — anything else, after all, would have been a waste of their world-historical moment. The freakout ensured that Republicans, more or less in lock step, would resist every proposal and vote “no” on every bill. (After all, to compromise with tyranny was no better than surrendering to it.)
So Democrats hailed the death of conservatism and the dawn of a glorious new liberal epoch and then griped that Republicans wouldn’t lend their support to its fulfillment. Republicans denounced President Obama as a Marxist and shrieked “you lie!” at him in the House chambers, and then they complained that he wouldn’t listen to their ideas.
But in the past month of lame-duck activity, we’ve witnessed a return to political normalcy. The Republican midterm sweep delivered the coup de grâce to the liberal fantasy by dramatically foreshortening what many pundits expected to be an enduring Democratic majority. But it also dropped a lid, at least temporarily, on the conservative freakout. (It’s hard to fret that much about the supposed Kenyan-Marxist radical in the White House when anything he accomplishes has to be co-signed by John Boehner.)
In this brave new post-election world, lawmakers on both sides stopped behaving like players in some Beltway version of the battle at Armageddon and started behaving like, well, lawmakers. They cut deals, traded horses, preened (and sometimes whined) for the cameras, and cast their votes on a mix of principle, pique and political self-interest, rather than just falling into line for or against the Obama agenda.
Partisanship didn’t disappear, but moderation repeatedly won out. Congress cut a big bipartisan deal on taxes and spending and then shot down a more partisan liberal budget. One of the most controversial items on the lame-duck agenda — the Dream Act, offering the children of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship — was defeated by bipartisan opposition. Two of the less controversial items — the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (supported by some 75 percent of Americans, according to various polls) and the New Start arms control treaty (supported by nearly every Republican foreign policy hand) — passed by healthy margins.
This return to normalcy is good news for fans of bipartisan comity and centrism for centrism’s sake. And it might be good news for the country. In the end, some sort of bipartisanship will be required to pull America back from the fiscal precipice, and the productivity of this lame-duck December shows that cooperation between the two parties isn’t as impossible as it seemed just a few months ago.
But when it comes to the hard challenges ahead, comity won’t be enough. Real courage is required as well. And this month’s outbreak of bipartisanship was conspicuously yellow-bellied. Republicans and Democrats came together to cut taxes, raise spending, and give free health care to the first responders on 9/11. They indulged, in other words, in the kind of easy, profligate “moderation” that’s done as much damage to the country over the years as the ideologies of either left or right.
If that’s all that the return to normalcy delivers, we’ll be back to fantasies and freakouts soon enough.
From the New York Times:
December 27th, 2010
Mr. Douthat, your effort to suggest that the Democrats’ behavior over the past two years were just as radical and far out as the Republicans’ behavior was shows that you clearly were not paying attention. The Republicans certainly engaged in a complete freak out, just as they did when Clinton was President or whenever any other Democrat obtains a position of power. They attacked President Obama’s fitness for office, legitimacy to be President, and falsely painted him as a Communist, Fascist, Muslim Manchurian candidate who wanted to kill all of our grandparents. The attacks lacked all basis in fact or reality, but were readily parroted by the Republican Party’s propaganda machines at Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, etc., echoed by Republican Congresspeople, and used to rile up the tea partiers.
On the flip side, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress certainly tried to address the major problems that were left to him by the Bush Administration. They took on the economic crisis, the financial sector meltdown, health care reform, credit card industry abuses, and foreign policy challenges in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the rest of the world. But they did so in only a mildly progressive way, rather than in the far-left radical mold that you falsely imply. Health care reform was a great accomplishment, but President Obama never even proposed, much less pursued, the true leftwing position of single payer, and gave up on the public option early in the legislative battle. The Democrats’ stimulus bill was 40% tax cuts in order to get moderate’s support. Wall Street reform was also a great accomplishment, but could have gone much further. And President Obama boosted troops in Afghanistan, rather than being the radical peacenik that you seem to imply.
Now, we can debate until the cows come home the merits of the approaches taken by President Obama and the Congressional Democrats. Many of us progressives wish they had gone further, though many of us also understand the political realities that prevented them from doing so. And I am sure that many on the right wish that President Obama and the Democrats had not gone nearly as far, so that the policies that led us into the Bush Recession, allowed a small number of speculators to get obscenely wealthy while forcing our financial sector to have to be bailed out, and have expanded the gap between the rich and the rest of us could be continued. But let’s not pretend like the approach taken by President Obama and the Congressional Democrats was something radical, because it was not.
Fort Myers, Florida
December 27th, 2010
“…in the past month of lame-duck activity, we’ve witnessed a return to political normalcy.” – Ross Douthat
Normalcy? Very Warren Harding of you, Mr. Douthat. The “political normalcy” we’ve returned to, unfortunately, is very much of the Harding variety. It is way to right of Richard Nixon, and even to the right of Ronald Reagan. When these Republican presidents horse-traded with Democrats, they had the guts to agree to programs to help the needy and to pay for those programs with tax hikes. Reagan raised taxes five or seven or nine times, depending on whose figures you accept. Republican Alan Simpson mentioned four times Reagan approved large tax hikes and said there were others.
Maybe it was George Bush I’s 1992 loss, attributed largely to his failed promise, “Read my lips. No new taxes,” that frightened Republicans into perpetual tax aversion. Or maybe it’s just a starve-the-government ploy. Whatever its “reasons,” today’s Republican party is not reasonable. Had Republicans sat back & allowed the Democratic Congress to legislate, the country would surely be in a better economic place today. Republicans would still have been able to make their same lame arguments, but they would not have crippled the country with them.
There is a good deal to celebrate about the efforts of the lame-duck Congress, mostly because a few Republican Senators broke ranks with the moribund leadership.
But there is as much to mourn.
The tax cuts should never have been extended. Since more than 50% of American families don’t pay any federal income tax, the tax breaks are largely for people who didn’t really need them. The argument for the tax-cut extension is that it will stimulate the economy. Really? What difference does it make if government decides how best to stimulate the economy – say by improving infrastructure – or if individuals do – say, by buying new Mercedes? Ah, yes, it does make a difference, doesn’t it? A new bridge vs. the purchase of a few foreign-made gas-guzzlers. Which will do more to improve this nation’s economy?
As for the failure of the DREAM bill, that’s just a sickening example of our morally bankrupt xenophobia. I’d really like to know why President Obama & Leader Reid didn’t light a fire under those five Democratic Senators who voted against cloture on the bill. Republicans know how to play hardball with their caucus. Democrats choose not to. Makes you wonder if they care, doesn’t it?
I’m not surprised you’re a bit giddy about the future, Mr. Douthat, and the fabulous chance to see Barack Obama & John Boehner doing the two-step. Maybe you should read Paul Krugman’s column today (or any day) to see how likely the new dance step is to get us out of this mess.
The Constant Weader at www.RealityChex.com
December 27th, 2010
Unfortunately there was indeed a return to normalcy – where normal is to go ahead and spend whatever anyone wants (this especially includes lots of military spending, which is what so-called conservatives want to spend on) while reducing even further any effort to come up with that money (other than by more borrowing).
That a no-brainer like a treaty on nuclear arms was a contentious issue that required tax breaks for the very rich (even a million dollar top rate was rejected)as the price for passage, shows that partisanship was still alive and kicking in Washington.
December 27th, 2010
1) many of us who campaigned for Obama ALWAYS thought the celebrity “yes, we can” video was creepy. But it was a situation of campaign for Obama, or end up with Palin and an increasingly erratic McCain.
2) that’s not a “bipartisan tax cut deal” you speak of. It’s a raise in taxes for people making $20-$40k, and a cut for everyone else.
It’s a bipartisan agreement to tell the world that America still believes, “Deficits don’t matter.”
Deficits do matter.
December 27th, 2010
That wasn’t bipartisanship in any meaningful sense. With 75 percent public approval on DADT and the arms treaty, these votes were simply acceding (however grudgingly; and in some cases swinishly) to public opinion. The rest was fatigue and a desire to get out of Washington without having to work too hard. By next week the usual bedlam will be back in force; and the fantasiasts and freaks will be swinging from the rafters again, the only difference being that they will bedoing so while hunting and pecking on their Blackberries and IPads.
December 27th, 2010
Mr. Obama offered a change from a vile and despicable administration which valued ignorance over understanding, which destroyed the economy, which started two unjustified and unfunded wars, and which lost the respect of nearly the entire world. The alternative was McCain and Palin, a scenario that was almost too horrible to contemplate. I would have given Mr. Obama a Nobel Prize, a Grammy, and a couple of Golden Globes just to be rid of Bush and his familiars. To say this was a cult of personality is to forget what it felt like to have the country run by these totalitarian ideologues.
It makes me very uneasy to hear conservatives use the word “courage.” You say Moderation as it was a dirty word. You see the recent display of de-facto bipartisanship as weak and mealy-mouthed, lacking in conviction, and straying from conservative purity. What would you rather see? More attacks on the tattered remnants of the middle class? Dismantling the social safety net for the unemployed, the sick, and the elderly? Summarily deporting promising foreign students from college because of the sins of their parents? Looking with more suspicion and disdain at gays, and ensuring that they make no more progress? Harping on Christian piety while pandering to incipient racism? It that what conservative courage looks like?
I don’t think you need to worry. There was a momentary spasm of lame-duck cooperation, but that’s because there was little for many of the lame ducks to lose. As the election of 2012 looms, Mitch McConnell will likely focus on what he said was the main goal that all conservatives should be working toward: getting rid of the president. We may find ourselves in the same boat that we were in during the W years, with the only saving grace being that with them in charge, maybe the trains will run on time.
new york city
December 27th, 2010
You lump retaining obscene tax cuts for millionaires and providing medical care to 9-11 responders under “yellow-bellied bipartisanship?”
These are morally equivilant to you? Helping suffering heroes is “yellow-bellied?” Read any Orwell lately?
December 27th, 2010
So, Mr. Douthat, you say: “a lot of over-the-top promises from Obama himself.” Care to list those and provide evidence that they were, in fact, promises and not goals, or aspirations?
So, Mr. Douthat, you say: “ensured that the Democrats would go for broke (quite literally, judging by the budget figures) on domestic policy.” Would you care to back that assertion with evidence? Or does the evidence establish that the budget figures (a k a deficits), in fact, represent (a) reduced tax revenues and increased safety-net expenditures (unemployment, food stamps) occasioned by the Great Recession; (b) structural deficits caused by Bush-era tax cuts and Bush-era Republicans “going for broke (quite literally) on domestic policy” with their Medicare drug plan that they didn’t bother to pay for? Yes, the 2009 stimulus bill added to the deficit for two years but not to the structural deficit. Moreover, all but the most unreconstructed conservative economists agreed stimulus was essential to prevent economic disaster and greatly increase temporary deficits anyway; and, besides, 40% of the bill was tax cuts in order to attract Republican votes. In short, the stimulus bill hardly constitutes “going for broke on domestic policy.”
So, Mr. Douthat, are you merely spinning an equivalence narrative partly based memes about liberals in order to avoid the reality that starkly condemns conservatives?
December 27th, 2010
Very interesting column this morning. While I suppose many will dispute your history of the last two years, it sounds pretty on target to me. As a liberal, I don’t think you have done justice to the depth of hatred and oppositionalness the republicans have exhibited, from before the beginning of Obama’s term. But I a agree that an increase in courage and maturity is going to be required if we are to get ourselves out of the problems we are in. Taxes are eventually going to need to be raised, and spending increases need to be curbed. I just hope all the state, local, and federal government don’t cut spending in a nervous frenzy, as that would most likely cause a second dip in the recession.
W in the Middle
New York State
December 27th, 2010
Ross, I wouldn’t be so pessimistic.
I voted for Barack, and – after his performance up until about a month ago – Thought he’d, at best, have a 50-50 chance of getting me to vote for him again, if he worked really hard in 2011 and 2012.
Now, I think he may get me back – and within 12 months.
Don’t get me wrong. There’re several aspects of the health care legislation that are horrific and badly need to be undone.
The combination of the mandate and the subsidy for lower-income folks is stealth socialism – and a deadly precedent for governmental behavior.
The crazy-quilt market being created for insurers makes about as much sense as keeping the most rapacious mortgage brokers and student loaners in business. As in – it doesn’t.
But the death panels. Well – let’s look at the numbers.
There’re about 300 million of us – and we each live about 75 years.
So, each year, about 4 million of us die. An actuarial certaintly.
Some tragically before their time – but who are we to say when anyone’s time really is?
So, let’s say all of the dying make a conscious decision to cause 50 thousand dollars less to be spent on their end-or-life medical care.
That’d be about 200 billion dollars each year not spent paying it backwards. Find another 200 billion in waste and fraud.
200 billion here. 200 billion there.
Soon, you’re talking about real money.
The other thing that Barack has to do – and I voted for him to do this – is to reverse the ridiculous xenophobia in this country.
He’s just reversed the ridiculous homophobia in our military.
Simply put, this country needs 50 million immigrants in the next decade.
Or, we can plow 25 of our larger cities half-under – and pretend that’s progress.
Detroit has 40 percent of the population it once had.
Does it matter whether the 60 percent who left were Republicans or Democrats?
Or does it matter that they built homes, paid their taxes, sent their kids to school – and generally did their part in keeping the dream going?
New York City was a basket case, 30 years ago – but then folks thought they could do better.
Sometimes, it takes a Republican to raise a city (or state).
From the dead.
December 27th, 2010
President Obama didn’t win a Nobel Peace Prize “just for being his amazing self.” He won it for being the opposite of George W. Bush, to most of the world’s great relief.
December 27th, 2010
What Ross and his ilk don’t realize is that “Yes We Can” was and is not about Obama (it wasn’t “yes He can”). It is not about believing in him, it is about believing in ourselves.
Guys like Ross will never get that.
December 27th, 2010
Mr. Douthat, I agree that “some sort of bipartisanship will be required to pull America back from the fiscal precipice.” But, our politicians don’t seem motivated to do what really needs to be done to save our economy from its present downward spiral. We must stop sending our factories and jobs to China and other low-wage countries.
Yes, our politicians did pass several laws with bipartisan support during the recent lame-duck session. But, they did not even vote on whether to bring thousands of factories and millions of jobs back to America from China and elsewhere. Our politicians appear to still care more about the big corporations, than the millions of American workers without jobs.
December 27th, 2010
Opposition to the Dream Act was hardly bipartisan. A couple Dems and a majority of Republicans. The only reason the right relented was to get the cherished tax breaks for their masters. No doubt the party of No will continue on its mission to destroy the Obama presidency.
December 27th, 2010
If the past weeks are a return to “normalcy” then we are in worse trouble than one can imagine. Give 900 billion and more to the richest; extract less than 100 billion for various liberal do-good projects and cost-free window dressings like DADT changing. Meantime collectively, everyone all together, just stick your heads in the sand and ignore all the real problems at hand – like a grotesquely over-sized military-industrial complex that is killing not only those myriad thems, but also US(A), fiscally. And old imperial story. And a media complex which has gone a good way destroying whatever democracy we once had by issuing lie after lie from its corporate sponsors, and kow-towing to a government which has its own pack of lies to peddle (thank you WikiLeaks for letting us in on some of them; may more revelations come).
And on down the list to crumbling infra-structure, lousy education, lax regulatory powers over corporate behemoths gone amok.
Oh well, in the name of “normalcy” lets forget about that like we always did.
Everybody happy now?
December 27th, 2010
Democracy is not a priory a good social system; it could be a tremendous deficiency – a combination of a mental disorder, a confession stand and a hallucinogen drug.
A mental disorder – it’s like being a bipolar individual or having a split personality. Imagine some country with two political parties and each of them is trying to teach a society diametrically opposite principles and values. Taking care of the people in need versus not taking care, taxing equally versus taxing progressively, subsidizing something versus not getting involved, paying the bills on time versus borrowing against own future, developing a local industrial base versus importing the goods from abroad, all of those going on simultaneously or having a course changed every 4 years…
Let’s make a comparison to a military operations – it’s like having one general occupying some country and than having another one ordering withdrawal 4 years later and so back and forth for 5 decades…
While each of those approaches would make a full sense individually, having them combined is just a waste of the time, the money, the lives and the resources…
A confession stand – it’s like going to a priest and admitting all the sins committed while being in power and pleading for forgiveness after losing the elections in order to get another chance and than repeating the same mistakes all over again. Imagine now facing the same priest (the voters) for a half century while constantly coming back for another round of forgiveness…
A hallucinogen drug – imagine being responsible for transforming a country that was the most industrialized nation in the world into a society heavily dependent upon the foreign imports, borrowing so much money that you put into debt even your children and grandchildren, pushing into a debt everybody – from the single individuals, the cities, the states and the federal government, destroying the credibility of own country and creating many enemies across the world and then somehow believing that all those problems don’t matter any more because you managed to win the most recent elections and be extremely proud of own results…
Now, many people are confused because democracy enabled some countries to be the most powerful nations in the world. If democracy were harmful, those achievements would never materialize.
That’s a classic case of misconstruing the truth for the democracy. If democracy was used as a vehicle to deliver the truth, then it will be instrumental in the social progress. However, if democracy were misused to deliver the lies and deceive the voters, then it’s very harmful.
It means that the most important criterion is whether the politicians and truthful or not. If they lack credibility and honesty, then the democracy will be detrimental because it fools the people. For example, if some politicians promise the change and balancing the budget, creating the jobs, ending the wars, communicating better with other nations, protecting the domestic manufacturing, eliminating the trade deficits, punishing those who pushed a country to a very brink of an enormous economic crises and deliver the promised, then democracy is very helpful in electing the right individuals. However, if democracy is used only to fool the voters and the leaders forget all the promises after being elected, then the democracy is harmful to the long-term interests.
If the leaders kept their promises 2 centuries ago and were willing to sacrifice on behalf of their homeland, it doesn’t a priory mean that today’s politicians are of the same character and stamina.
It means that democracy is not a priory bad of good. It depends on willingness of the voters to tolerate the politicians who don’t keep their promises. If the voters were electing the governing principles and not the individuals, then democracy could be very helpful.
Letting any politician getting elected on one set of promises only to completely discard them afterwards is the most dangerous flaw of democracy. If the voters let it happen then the democracy is not a strategic advantage but an enormous handicap.
Judging Obama’s economics
By Robert J. Samuelson
Monday, January 3, 2011
“Just as scholars continue to debate how close we came to nuclear conflict during the Cuban missile crisis, they will continue to debate just how close the American financial system and economy came to all-out collapse in the six months between September of 2008 and April of 2009.”
White House economic counselor Larry Summers, Dec. 13, 2010
President Obama must take some comfort that the latest economic forecasts are becoming more optimistic about 2011 and beyond. The more upbeat of these (from, say, Richard Berner of Morgan Stanley) have the economy’s growth accelerating next year to about 4 percent from less than 3 percent and the unemployment rate dropping from the present 9.8 percent to 8.6 percent by year-end. Though that is still depressingly high, it would begin to dispel the gloomy notion that the economy is permanently stuck with high joblessness and give Obama grounds for boasting that his policies drove the turnaround.
If average Americans agree, Obama’s reelection prospects will improve significantly. But public opinion isn’t there yet. A few weeks ago, departing White House economist Summers – who is returning to Harvard – made the case for Obama in a valedictory speech. In what he said and what he didn’t, Summers mirrored the strengths and weaknesses of administration policies. This suggests a mixed verdict: Obama deserves more credit than his critics concede but less than he claims.
As Summers noted, Obama inherited a desperate situation. The stock market was collapsing; it would lose $3.9 trillion of value, almost a third, from his election to the bottom in March 2009, according to Wilshire Associates. Global trade was spiraling downward; it would fall 12.2 percent in 2009. At their worst, Summers said, these declines exceeded the initial drops of the 1930s. Companies fired millions of workers. Fear and hysteria abounded.
Obama helped stabilize the economy – and psychology. Both what he did and how he did it mattered. He acted with self-assurance and decisiveness. The roughly $800 billion “stimulus” put money in consumers’ pockets and certainly saved jobs; it signaled that government would not allow the economy to fall into an abyss. The “stress test” of banks showed that they were stronger than had been thought. If General Motors and Chrysler hadn’t been rescued, joblessness would have increased by hundreds of thousands.
True, many of Obama’s policies started under President George W. Bush. But it’s unclear whether John McCain would have done as well. Without Obama’s forceful actions, “we would be looking at a vastly different world today,” Summers argued. Something akin to depression was conceivable.
The trouble is that Obama, having stabilized the economy, weakened the recovery. What’s missing from Summers’s valedictory is any sense of contradiction between the administration’s ambitious social and regulatory agenda and the business confidence necessary for hiring and investing. Of course, the connections existed. The health-care law raises hiring costs by requiring in 2014 that all firms with more than 50 employees provide health insurance or be fined. The law brims with complexities and uncertainties that make it hard to estimate the ultimate costs. Will firms with, say, 47 workers eagerly expand beyond 50 if that imposes all the extra costs? It seems doubtful.
Choices had to be made. The administration could either concentrate on promoting recovery or devote itself to more narrow and, usually, partisan objectives. It couldn’t do both – at least, it couldn’t do both effectively. Obama’s solution was to pretend the choices didn’t exist. The first hints of this occurred in the “stimulus” package, which provided money for some pet projects that provided precious little stimulus. Until last week, for example, only about 20 percent of the $8 billion committed to high-speed rail had been disbursed. Planning these massive projects takes time.
The same qualities that initially served Obama well (poise, confidence, aggressiveness) became an arrogant disdain for obvious inconsistencies. Neither he nor Summers showed much understanding of, or sympathy for, the practical problems of firms deciding to hire. Obama proclaimed that he was encouraging job creation while pushing measures that discouraged job creation – health-care “reform,” action against global warming, restrictions (after the BP blowout) on off-shore drilling, among others. It was not that every proposal was wrong so much as a highly partisan, complicated agenda was bound to sow ill will, create uncertainty and retard recovery. How much is open to question; the direction is not.
Obama has much riding on the economy in 2011. The present modest optimism reflects many factors: the renewal of the Bush tax cuts; pent-up demand for housing and autos; a recovering stock market; debt “deleveraging” by households. Threats loom in Europe’s financial problems, higher oil prices and paralysis over America’s long-term budget deficits. The outcome may determine whether undecided Americans credit Obama for preventing a depression or blame him for hampering recovery.
Let Obama’s Reagan Revolution Begin
By FRANK RICH
Published: January 8, 2011
The present-day radicals donning Reagan drag, led by Sarah Palin, seem not to know, as [Lou ]Cannon writes, that their hero lurched “from excessive tax cuts to corrective tax increases disguised as tax reform” and “submitted eight unbalanced budgets to Congress in succession.” Reagan made no promise whatsoever of a balanced budget in the document that codified Reaganomics, his White House’s 281-page message to Congress in February 1981. The historian Gil Troy has calculated that spending on entitlement programs more than doubled on Reagan’s watch. America slid into debtor-nation status, and Americans “went from owing 16 cents for every dollar in national income in 1981” to owing 44 cents per dollar in 1988.
It’s also likely that Reagan would have drifted off — like most Americans — during the pretentious recitation of the Constitution in the House. He prided himself on serving as a true citizen-politician and, as Cannon writes, saw no problem in being “completely ignorant of even civics-book information about how bills were passed.”
What Reagan did know was how to deliver a message, even if that message belied his policies or actions or the facts. While perhaps no politician can ever duplicate Reagan’s brand of sunny and homespun (if Hollywood-honed) geniality, Obama has his own radiance when he wants to turn it on — a quality Reagan opponents like Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale lacked and that is beyond the imagination of frothing-at-the-mouth Tea Partiers. But Obama is less adept at keeping his messages simple, consistent and crystal-clear.
In a particularly instructive passage, Cannon tells of Reagan’s habit of endlessly recycling an inspirational World War II anecdote that, as the press discovered, was a movie-spawned fiction. His White House spokesman, Larry Speakes, was only half-joking when he deflected critics with the old saw “if you tell the same story five times, it’s true.” Unlike Reagan, Obama doesn’t invent or fantasize. But he has trouble telling even some true stories five times — and telling them well — which is why he now has to resell the health care bill more than nine months after he signed it.
Reagan’s talents also included an ability to pick adversaries and hammer them relentlessly — without losing his cool — whether air-traffic controllers or the “evil empire.” Though Obama ultimately stopped vilifying the Bush administration for the economic disaster he inherited, Reagan never backed off bashing the Democrats and the 30-year Great Society “binge” for the fiscal woes of his America. Reagan got away with it because he never sounded like a whiner, and because he paired his invective with an optimism that bleached out any pettiness. A former Democrat, after all, he wisely chose F.D.R. as his political model.
That pitch-perfect showmanship, timing and salesmanship (his father was a salesman) were in Reagan’s résumé and bones. Obama doesn’t have that training, but he was a great communicator when it came to selling his own story in the campaign, heaven knows. He has rarely rekindled that touch in the White House — even during his December run of good fortune. His recent Congressional victories should not obscure the reality that, the tax-cut deal notwithstanding, he still disappeared at key moments when he should have led the charge.
…With his vastly reduced Capitol Hill cohort, Obama’s next two years are going to be less about pushing bills through Congress and more about pushing the presidency to the max. Win or lose, he’ll have to be more vocal in other fights, starting with immigration reform, where bedrock American principles of fairness are at stake. He’ll also have to finally find a unifying story to unite his economic philosophy, for if he never defines Obamanomics, his opponents will keep labeling it as tax-and-spend socialism instead.
Teahadists throughout history:
1492: You’ll pay for thinking the Earth is round!
1543: You’ll pay for saying the Earth isn’t the center of the Universe!
1692: You’ll pay for being a witch!
1776: You’ll pay for defying the King!
1861: You’ll pay for outlawing slavery!
1920: You’ll pay for giving women the right to vote!
1960s: You’ll pay for giving blacks equality!
2010: You’ll pay for pursuing the mandate you were voted in for!
2011: We had to shoot members of the opposition in order to stop healthcare reform!
Democrats through history:
1. The Democratic Party was against freeing the slaves.
2. The Democratic Party was for secession.
3. The Democratic Party started the Civil War in order to keep African Americans enslaved.
4. The Democratic Party resisted reconstruction and equal rights after the Civil War.
5. The Democratic Party created the “Jim Crow laws” in the south when they regained control from Republicans.
6. The Democratic Party was responsible for Segregation policies in the south.
7. The military was INTEGRATED until Democrat President Woodrow Wilson SEGREGATED it.
8. The KKK for a hundred years was considered the “military arm” of the Democratic Party.
9. Democrats fought Republicans tooth and nail in order to STOP the Civil Rights movement.
10. Only when North Eastern Democrats defected and supported the Republican Civil Rights efforts did the 1960’s produce the laws now considered the centerpiece of the Civil Rights movement.
11. The Democratic Party evolved in the 1960′s into a hybrid Socialist Party and its socialist policy’s seek to re-enslave African Americans under the guise of protecting them from racist policy’s that Democrats themselves instituted.
12. And now the fruit of the socialization of Democratic Party ideology and its utter failure is shown in an African American community almost completely dependent on the government for even the most basic of needs (subsidized food, housing, etc. etc.) and the removal of the African American man as the bread winner of those families.
1/8/2011 10:47:51 PM
How Obama’s speech muddied the budget debate
By Robert J. Samuelson
Thursday, January 27, 2011
It was a teachable moment – and Barack Obama didn’t teach. Unless public opinion changes, we won’t end our budget deadlock. As is well-known, Americans want budget deficits curbed. In a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 54 percent urge Congress and the president to “act quickly” and 57 percent prefer spending cuts to tax increases. But there’s little support for cuts in Social Security (64 percent opposed), Medicare (56 percent) and Medicaid (47 percent), which together approach half of federal spending. The State of the Union gave Obama the opportunity to confront the contradictions and educate Americans in the unpleasant realities of uncontrolled government. He declined.
What we got were empty platitudes. We won’t be “buried under a mountain of debt,” Obama declared. Heck, we’re already buried. We will “win the future.” Not by deluding ourselves, we won’t. Americans think deficits are someone else’s problem that can be cured by taxing the rich (say liberals) or ending wasteful spending (conservatives). Obama indulged these fantasies.
If deficits stemmed mainly from the recession, this wouldn’t matter. They would shrink as the economy recovered; tax collections would rise and spending (on unemployment insurance, food stamps) would fall. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. In fiscal 2010, the deficit – the gap between government spending and revenue – was $1.3 trillion. Of that, about $725 billion was a “structural” deficit, says Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics. That is, it would exist even if the economy were at full employment (5.75 percent by Zandi’s estimate).
Even this arithmetic may be misleading. Falling interest rates – reflecting the recession and Federal Reserve policy – have lowered the government’s interest payments despite ballooning debt. In 2010, federal interest costs were $197 billion, down from $253 billion in 2008. But as the economy strengthens, interest rates will rise, offsetting some of the recovery’s beneficial effect on the deficit. By 2020, annual interest payments could approach $800 billion, projects the Congressional Budget Office.
We cannot have a useful debate on the role of government – what it should do, for whom and at whose expense – if Americans are highly misinformed. Obama should have dispelled some common budgetary myths. Consider three:
l Myth: The problem is the deficit. The real issue isn’t the deficit. It’s the exploding spending on the elderly – for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – which automatically expands the size of government. If we ended deficits with tax increases, we would simply exchange one problem (high deficits) for another (high taxes). Either would weaken the economy, and sharply higher taxes would represent an undesirable transfer to retirees from younger taxpayers.
l Myth: Eliminating wasteful or ineffective programs will close deficits. The Republican Study Committee – 176 House members – recently proposed $2.5 trillion of cuts over a decade in non-defense, non-elderly programs. This plan would kill dozens of specific programs. Now, many of these programs should go; they’re either unneeded or ineffective. Consider one candidate for elimination, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In an information-drenched society, it’s hard to justify government subsidies for TV and radio.
But this budget category covers only a sixth of federal spending, and squeezing it harshly would penalize many vital government functions (research, transportation, the FBI). The Republicans’ cuts are huge, about 35 percent. Even so, they would reduce projected deficits by at most a third. Over the next decade, those deficits could easily total $7 trillion to $10 trillion.
l Myth: The elderly have “earned” their Social Security and Medicare by their lifelong payroll taxes, which were put aside for their retirement. Not so. Both programs are pay-as-you-go. Today’s taxes pay today’s benefits; little is “saved.” Even if all were saved, most retirees receive benefits that far exceed their payroll taxes. Consider a man who turned 65 in 2010 and earned an average wage ($43,100). Over his expected lifetime, he will receive an inflation-adjusted $417,000 in Social Security and Medicare benefits, compared with taxes paid of $345,000, estimates an Urban Institute study.
It’s a cliche, but true: There are no easy – or popular – solutions. Controlling the budget requires some combination of (a) reducing benefits for the elderly; (b) downsizing other programs, including defense; and (c) raising taxes. Not only did Obama avoid choices, but he failed to frame the debate in a way that clarified what the choices are. So public opinion remains muddled, and politicians – sensitive to public opinion – remain stalemated.
Obama’s expedient evasion is the opposite of presidential leadership. It maximizes short-term approval ratings while running long-term risks. A loss of investor confidence could trigger a chaotic flight from Treasury bonds and the dollar. One economist recently wrote in the Financial Times: “I hope it does not ultimately require a crisis to restore fiscal [responsibility] . . ., but I fear it will.” That was Peter Orszag, Obama’s first budget chief. Sobering.