by Victor Davis Hanson
Borrowing Is No Longer Stimulus?
The Congressional Budget Office not long ago forecast that Barack Obama’s $1 trillion-plus annual deficits — scheduled over the next decade — would result in almost another $10 trillion in aggregate debt. Going back to the pre-Bush tax rates this time won’t balance the budget. Slashing discretionary spending will not. So large has the splurge become, and so hooked are the constituencies of federal money, that massive cuts to entitlements necessary to stave off financial implosion may well prompt Greek-like protests.
That staggering sum was apparently conventional wisdom until the November 2010 election. But now there is fear that at some point in the future, Obama will not be known as the first African-American president. Nor will he be cited even as the hope-and-change phenomenon of 2008. Instead, posterity shall know him as the single greatest borrower in American presidential history, a novice who nearly wrecked the US economy by borrowing over $4 billion a day without any feasible proposal how to pay back such a vast sum — taking a post-recession recovery and turning it into a stagflationary mess. In the third year of his tenure, Obama is still left only with “Bush did it” as an explanation of what went wrong.
Obama has managed the nearly impossible: the greatest peacetime deficits in US history — about $1.5 trillion per year — in his first three years achieved almost no economic expansion. Instead, unemployment is chronic and stays over 9.2%; growth is stagnant; gas is sky-high — and the president seems stunned that none of what he had promised came to pass. All his liberal nostrums have been tried and been found wanting. There is no successful EU model, no winning blue-state statist paradigm for guidance.
Remember that his key advisors — Goolsbee, Orszag, Romer, Summers — have now quit and did not last even three years, their policies orphaned by the very parents who spawned them. Even the president joked that “shovel-ready” was a joke. When he evokes “stimulus” and “investment,” in response, we do not even think “borrowing” and “taxes,” but rather “he’s clueless again.” The old argument that we simply did not borrow enough (say, $5, $6, $7 billion a day?) is laughable beyond the point of caricature, given that the administration followed the Bush record of record peacetime debt. The only mystery is whether the massive Obama borrowing was a product of incompetence, a poorly thought out gorge the beast way of increasing taxes and redistributing income, or a more cynical effort at creating a permanent constituency of millions of new food stamp recipients and federal workers. Or more than that still.
Your Debt And None Of Our Own
Obama himself recently proposed a massive deficit budget that not a single Democrat in the Senate could vote for; then suddenly he flipped, and said that red ink of the sort that he ran up was now unsustainable. When did the president of the United States metamorphosize from the greatest Keynesian in presidential history to a fiscal hawk — January? March? April 1?
As he calls for higher taxes, he still has not offered any plan whatsoever that details where the president himself would cut. Remember that he conceded in December that higher taxes were bad; but by July they were then good again. He courts Wall Street one day for campaign money, yet on another calls them “fat cat” bankers and deplores their jets. Food stamps recipients now number 50 million — and we dare not imagine that even one has taken a dime without good cause.
The would-be employer is told to hire, but on what confident supposition, what rationale? That he knows well the tax rate to come, the healthcare costs to come, the regulations to come, the pro-business, veteran CEO appointee to come, the next presidential slur to come? Apparently Obama believed that capitalists were so greedy, so wealthy, so money-hungry that they would not mind much the redistributive obstacles he erected.
He talks grandly of getting America back to work, as his subordinates try to close down a Boeing aircraft plant, layer more regulations and burdens on energy production, reverse the order of creditors in the Chrysler mess, and take over GM — even as he continues the old “spread the wealth” and “redistributive change” adolescent rants with newer, sillier faculty lounge concoctions, claiming that at some point we have made enough money and that he himself has hundreds of thousands of dollars in income that he does not need and thus should have higher taxes on. (If so, please, help the Treasury out by offering to pay the gas for the Costa del Sol, Vail, and Martha’s Vineyard first-family freebies). One expects such banalities from the college dorm lounge, but not the middle-aged president of the United States.
Abroad the misdirection, confusion, and petulance mirror-image the debt mess. In Libya we have no mission aim, no methodology, and no desired outcome — our consolation only that Libya is a tiny country compared to a nearly 30-million person Afghanistan or Iraq. Obama went to the Arab League and the UN, but not the US Congress for authorization — but to do what? Help the rebels? Enforce a no-fly-zone? Kill Gaddafi? Overthrow the government? All, some, or none?
All such mission objectives have come and gone. Now Italy has joined Germany and half of NATO in opposing the effort — apparently on the logic that either Obama will eventually give up on an oil-rich Gaddafi, or that he should, given the bleak replacement prospects. France, which cooked up the campaign, is fence-sitting. Is this the new multilateral “leading from behind”? The only reason I can think why we bombed Gaddafi, and then allowed him to survive, is that we ourselves are terrified of the possible end-game and aftermath, given that we have little idea of who the rebels are, and even less whether they would be better, the same, or worse than the horrific status quo. If and when they storm Tripoli, expect a pogrom against any sub-Saharan African in Gaddafi’s pay, or, rather, any sub-Saharan African in general still in Libya.
The uncertainty in Libya is like that in Afghanistan, which the president once praised as the good war, then failed to meet his commanders for months, then escalated, then suddenly decided to start pulling out in fears of reelection in 2012, even as he appointed his fourth ground commander in less than three years. All that was sort of like pontificating that drilling new oil does not lower gas prices, but pumping previously drilled oil out of the strategic petroleum reserve apparently might in time before November 2012. Or was it similar to praising campaign finance reform, then being the first president to reject it? Or was it analogous to blasting Goldman Sachs and BP after hitting them up for cash and becoming their most favored recipient?
Obama Did It.
Remember the Obama 2007-8 demagoguery on the war on terror? We live now in Lala-land where the bad Bush’s Guantanamo, Predators, renditions, tribunals, preventative detention, Iraq, Afghanistan, wiretaps, and intercepts have become the good Obama’s protocols. We, the public, are supposed to nod and in Orwellian fashion get with the new Ministry of Information line, screaming at Bush on the big screen as the bad becomes good, the old good bad.
Remember the Cairo mythological speech, the falsehoods about an Islamic-enhanced Enlightenment and Renaissance, a multicultural Cordoba (with few Muslims in the late 15th century?) being an Islamic beacon of tolerance during the Inquisition? Remember the administration commentary on the underwear bomber, on Maj. Hasan, on the Ground Zero mosque, on trying KSM in New York? The Al Arabiya interview, the sermons to Israel, the bowing to Saudi royals?
Juxtapose all that with the Obama’s administration outlawing of “jihadist,” of “terrorism,” of “Islamist.” His team instead gave us “overseas contingency operations” and “man-caused disasters,” seemed to think that the Muslim Brotherhood is secular, and proclaimed that Israel — not Hamas, not Hezbollah, not Iran, not Syria (recall Assad the “reformer”) — is the problem in the Middle East.
Obama Is Obama
So we have what we have always had — the most partisan and the least experienced man in the US Senate as president, elected by a perfect storm of events (e.g., the 2008 meltdown, the media adulation, the anemic McCain candidacy, the furor over Bush and the Iraq war, the orphaned election without a single incumbent, etc.), in which no one was allowed to ask “Who is this stranger?” and “What has he ever done?”, in which the media finally gave up its last shred of impartiality and became a megaphone, as we were assured that Mr. Obama’s most intimate associates were really total strangers, his once praised avid church-going was merely sporadic, his most partisan voting record was in truth bipartisan, and his bad habits of saying disturbing things were simply a symptom of racialist, raise-the-bar nitpicking on behalf of his Neanderthal critics.
In short, Obama came into office with all the Carteresque assumptions on how to take over a private-sector economy and outsource foreign policy to international bodies. He now finds to his utter amazement — as Carter discovered in late 1979 after Teheran, Afghanistan, and Central America — that in the real world none of what worked in word worked in deed. Those who assured Obama that his Harvard lounge fantasies were real have either quit, are now offering new advice, or are criticizing him for once taking them at their word.
So what is he left with? Not much other than hoping that all the ten-trillion-dollar man’s printed money finally starts inflation to coincide with the 2012 election. Otherwise, we get only the same-old, same-old: blame Bush for the deficit each week; or a slur about starving granny with Social Security cuts; or a speech from an African-American congresswoman from the floor of the House attesting to the racism behind doubting Obama can do the job. Nothing much more than that.
The Wages of the 1960s
Obama, you see, is our nemesis. He is a totem, the logical manifestation of a warped media, the reification of some crazy — and arrogant — ideas about redistributive politics, the statist economy, and cultural and social life that permeated American life the last forty years. He is the president with a 1,000 faces that we have all seen at work, on TV, throughout American life, and at some point the odds determined that we had to have a rendezvous with him— perhaps a catharsis to teach us the wages of Keynesian debt, of a social policy contrary to human nature with its equality of result doctrines, of an all-powerful, all-growing unaccountable government, of the now hip ambiguity about past American protocols and history. Obama is the exaggeration of all the dubious ideas that arose since the 1960s — brought to fruition on his watch, delivered by mellifluous cadences by an untouchable persona.
In fact, a Barack Obama was long overdue. Had he not appeared out of nowhere in 2008, we would have surely had to invent him.
©2011 Victor Davis Hanson