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

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Buck Stops

As I watch the country lurch toward a debt-limit crisis, I’m not the least bit surprised by the seemingly intractable positions of both parties. The Democrats are averse to any substantive, meaningful, close-term budget cuts and aggressive about increasing “revenues” (i.e., more taxes). The Republicans are averse to any tax increases and are aggressive about substantive, meaningful, and close term budget cuts.

The President says the right things in public, but in what has become a now long-standing tradition, what he says publicly and how he acts in reality are two rather different things. Charles Krauthammer (certainly no friend of Barack Obama) discusses this discrepancy:
President Obama is demanding a big long-term budget deal. He won’t sign anything less, he warns, asking, “If not now, when?”

How about last December, when he ignored his own debt commission’s recommendations? How about February, when he presented a budget that increases debt by $10 trillion over the next decade? How about April, when he sought a debt-ceiling increase with zero debt reduction attached?

All of a sudden he’s a born-again budget balancer prepared to bravely take on his own party by making deep cuts in entitlements. Really? Name one. He’s been saying forever that he’s prepared to discuss, engage, converse about entitlement cuts. But never once has he publicly proposed a single structural change to any entitlement.

Hasn’t the White House leaked that he’s prepared to raise the Medicare age or change the cost-of-living calculation?

Anonymous talk is cheap. Leaks are designed to manipulate. Offers are floated and disappear.

At the end of the day, the responsibility to craft an agreement sits with our head of government—the President. A true leader sets aside his personal ideology and does what he needs to do to avoid immediate risks to the country and its people. Long before the current crisis materialized, Barack Obama could have adopted the non-partisan recommendations of the debt commission he appointed for deficit reduction. He did not. It seems that he can’t pull the trigger and take responsibility for a major decision in this area.

He could have proposed a detailed plan of his own. He did not. Instead, he talks about the need to reduce the deficit, and talks, and talks. A true leader is measured by his actions, not his words.

He should recognize that demonizing the folks who sit across the table during a crucial negotiation is not a sound strategy. By how could he? He never negotiated anything of substance before he became President.

It seems that Barack Obama is triangulating, believing that if August 2nd comes and goes without an agreement, he’ll win by further demonizing the opposition and pointing the finger of blame directly at them. He’ll maximize public discomfort by cutting off social security checks or some other draconian and wholly unnecessary measure. I suspect the President and his supporters in the media feel certain they can blame the Republicans.

In fact, it appears that he’s betting his re-election on this, because the last thing he wants to discuss next year is his overall performance and the abysmal performance of the economy over the last two and half years.

He’s making a fool’s bet, because in the end, he owns this. More importantly an increasing number of the public and a significant percentage of his past supporters know the game and are beginning to question it.

A Democratic President, Harry Truman, had a famous little sign on his desk, “The Buck Stops Here.” Barack Obama seems to think that doesn’t apply to him. He’s wrong.