The Blues: Disappointment in the Era of Hope and Change

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

The Gloves Come Off?

I think the new combativeness coming out of the White House will only increase — given growing unhappiness over increased joblessness, the omnipresence of old Clinton-era attack dogs, new public doubts that vast new government programs are really the answer to what was in part a government Freddie- and Fannie-inspired crisis, and, especially, the sheer novelty of anyone questioning the messianic Barack Obama. For nearly two decades in local, Senate, and presidential races, Obama’s signature speeches and rhetorical tropes — someone else left a mess; “they”, “some,” and “others” have created false choices; spending more money saves money; the “Make no mistake about” and “Let me be perfectly clear” formulas; I am not your traditional politician; hope and change to the rescue — have won the public over. But if they don’t this time, then someone must pay?

When ‘They’ Become ‘Us’

It is quite striking how Republicans do not make much of the fact that Obama’s pledge merely to restore the Clinton tax rates has become laughable. Even if one were to forget the obvious that while the top rates were slated to go back to the near 40% level, states were simultaneously upping theirs (resulting in combined taxes of over 50% in places like California), there is the small matter of both the surcharge and the often-referenced lifting of Social Security payroll tax that currently stops at $106,000 and can, with the Medicare bite, reach over 15%.

In other words, not only are we not going back, as promised, to the Clinton era that had no surtax and no plans to lift the FICA caps, but the new rates may easily exceed 60%, when one tallies new state, federal, payroll, and surtax numbers.

And the second half of that pledge — that 95% of Americans won’t see any new taxes at all (and may receive a credit) — not only seems already broken with plans to raise energy, alcohol, and tobacco taxes, but will be soon the stuff of ridicule once we learn that the deficit, despite all these new taxes, still grows or stays well over $1 trillion per annum in the years to come. That by needs will prompt discussion of a national value added tax or hikes in the rates for almost everyone (and perhaps reconsideration of the Bush-era tax policies that led to nearly 40% being exempt entirely from taxes).

Obama’s campaign promises hinged on new Clinton-era taxes on the “rich” to pay for new programs, while everyone else was exempt or given a “credit.” The reality is that we get mega deficits and soon likely taxes on almost everyone.

This is new ground: We have never had such massive taxation simultaneously with such massive and growing deficits. Does anyone in this out-of-control administration, as it approaches the cliff, realize that it is about to violate its key campaign promises while getting almost nothing in return for its perfidy — except more debt for the next generation?

And That’s Politics . . .

Dozens of key Democratic lawmakers do not wish to run in 2010 on a platform of a $2 trillion annual deficit, serial apologies abroad, and more trillions in additional borrowed money for dubious programs like nationalized health care and cap-and-trade environmentalism. Their earlier Obamania was predicated on expectations that Obama’s stimulus would, by now, be inflating the economy, and we’d go back to a little grumbling at most at Obama’s pledge to return to Clinton tax rates, which would supposedly help lower the deficit.

Instead, we are now talking about borrowing another trillion for a second reckless pork-barreling stimulus, more debt, and adding new higher payroll, state, and surcharge taxes on top of the new rates. So former Obamian Democrats are uneasy and daily watching the polls for that key moment when Obama’s polls hit 49%, at which point they will begin to bail, and Obama (“This is not about me”/”You’re going to destroy my presidency”), for the first time in his life, discovers that his accustomed charm has now worn off and he is left to draw on two-years worth of senate experience. (Obama at least hopes that Biden, Frank, Holder, and Michelle do not come forth to rally the troops.)

Conventional wisdom was that Obama, in brilliant fashion, boxed Hillary in, by curbing Bill’s mega-speaking fees abroad, corralling her with special regional envoys and czars, and defanging her triangulation by having her give up her Senate seat. But she’s now giving interviews on Fox, talking about American muscularity, and will be seeking a new higher foreign profile to distance herself from the domestic mess — and waiting for another unguarded “clingers” outburst from an increasingly testy Obama.

In other words, politics as usual in the era of hope and change.

Not Quite So, Mr. President

I don’t quite understand this comment from the president that came in response to questions about his polls, which are slipping in unaccustomed fashion:

There have been so many times, during my political career … where people have said, ‘Boy, this is make or break for Obama. . . . When the stock market went down everybody was saying, ‘This is a disaster.’ And what I found is that as long as we are making good decisions, thinking always what’s . . . best for the American people, that, eventually, as long as we’re persistent and we’re listening to the American people, that things get done.

But wait, the September 2008 stock market meltdown was not a “make or break for Obama,” but rather a political godsend of the first order. At the time of the meltdown, he was still in some polls slightly trailing McCain, who was still coming off a strong convention.

Take away the stock market’s sudden crash, and the race would have been 50/50 to the wire. And so, with all due respect, I doubt that even one Obama supporter (“everybody?”) was saying of the sudden panic that hit Wall Street that this was “a disaster” for a liberal, anti-business Democrat, who quickly offered the obligatory populist rhetoric about greed and spread the wealth — and so suddenly surged ahead.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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