The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Owning the Solution

On yesterday’s Sunday morning talk shows, President Obama’s coterie of economic advisors and political allies tried to blunt the growing unrest, even among members of an overwhelmingly friendly media, with his domestic policies. The much-vaunted $780 billion economic stimulus has done nothing to blunt unemployment numbers Health care and cap and trade legislation have even moderate Democrats really, really concerned.

I continue to notice that by direct reference or by less-than-subtle implication, each Obama advisor metaphorically shrugs his or her shoulders and says, “What could we do, we inherited this mess from (the evil and reviled) George W. Bush, therefore we’re innocent victims, just like you (John Q. Public) are.”

Six months into his Presidency, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Barack Obama (and his spokespeople) to claim that it’s all someone else’s fault, but let’s grant that the President inherited a very bad situation (By the way, that’s nothing unusual. Bush, for example, inherited a very dicey economic and International situation, and no one in the media cut him any slack at all).
In an earlier post I noted that President Obama can still claim he doesn’t own the problem, but he most certainly owns the solution. And it’s the solution, even more than the problem, that has me worried.

Robert Samuelson of Newsweek comments:
It's not surprising that the much-ballyhooed "economic stimulus" hasn't done much stimulating. President Obama and his aides argue that it's too early to expect startling results. They have a point. A $14 trillion economy won't revive in a nanosecond. But the defects of the $787 billion package go deeper and won't be cured by time. The program crafted by Obama and the Democratic Congress wasn't engineered to maximize its economic impact. It was mostly a political exercise, designed to claim credit for any recovery, shower benefits on favored constituencies and signal support for fashionable causes.

As a result, much of the stimulus' potential benefit has been squandered. Spending increases and tax cuts are sprinkled in too many places and, all too often, are too delayed to do much good now. Nor do they concentrate on reviving the economy's most depressed sectors: state and local governments; the housing and auto industries. None of this means the stimulus won't help or precludes a recovery, but the help will be weaker than necessary.”

Barack Obama promised his supporters a “new kind of politics.” Those of us who were a bit more skeptical about his experience, his ideology, and his political reformist bent decided to reserve judgment until actions, rather than rhetoric, could be assessed.

Obama’s early actions can now be evaluated quantitatively. As Samuelson correctly points out, based on the results and proposals to date, those actions are “mostly a political exercise, designed to claim credit for any recovery, shower benefits on favored constituencies and signal support for fashionable causes.”

Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie in The Washington Post discuss our President’s predilection for implying that everything is a “crisis” and that legislation must be rammed through without careful deliberation. They writes:
On this last point, Obama is a perfect extension of Bush's worst trait as president. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush administration pushed through the Patriot Act, a massive, transformative piece of legislation that plainly went unread even as Congress overwhelmingly voted aye. Bush whipped up an atmosphere of crisis every time he sensed a restive Congress or a dissatisfied electorate. And at the end of his tenure, he rammed through the TARP bailout at warp speed, arguing that the United States yet again faced catastrophe at the hands of an existential threat.

But contrary to the dreams of dystopians and paranoiacs everywhere, there simply is no outside threat to the American way of life. No country can challenge us militarily; no economic system stands to dislodge capitalism; no terrorist group can do anything more than land the occasional (if horrendous) blow. And as history has shown, the U.S. economy is resilient enough to overcome the worst-laid plans from the White House.

Bush learned the hard way that running government as a perpetual crisis machine leads to bad policy and public fatigue. Obama's insistence on taking advantage of a crisis to push through every item on the progressive checklist right now is threatening to complete that cycle within his first year.

What are his options? First, stop doing harm. Throwing money all over the economy (and especially to sectors that match up with Democratic interests) is the shortest path to what Margaret Thatcher described as the inherent flaw in socialism: Eventually you run out of other people's money.

Indeed, the first responsibility of the President of the United States, much like the responsibility of health care providers, is to "first, do no harm" in the legislation he champions. For a such a smart guy, it appears that the President has not yet learned this lesson.