Don’t you just love politics? It was just a couple of months ago that many of my friends on the left were telling me that GOP had no chance in 2010, that even a modest improvement in the economy would allow the Democrats to sail through the mid terms relatively unscathed.
And they’ve been telling me for months that Obama has everything under control, that he’s got sure hand on the tiller of the Ship of State, and that any criticism of his performance was simply a “distraction.”
Times have changed. There is surprising agreement between the right and left on many aspects of Obama’s presidency - some of these criticisms coming from opposite directions but basically ending up in the same place; the president has yet to demonstrate leadership and competence in running the government.
It would seem that Obama’s trial balloon on a spending freeze to be announced at the State of the Union had a lot of lead in it for the left.
Every time the Democrats propose a jobs bill, or a big investment in alternative energy, you’re going to have Krauthammer and Kristol chomping at the bit to go on Fox News and proclaim Obama to be a hypocrite. Pity Robert Gibbs trying to parse his way out of that. This is not how one wins news cycles — or elections.
Edit / postscript: I’m fairly certain that the “spending freeze” will poll well in the near-term, and may even take Obama’s approval numbers up a point or so with it. But Obama’s not the one on the ballot in 2010; in the medium run, it’s most likely effect is to confuse voters, and in the long run, it’ll probably either be forgotten about or become Another Broken Promise™. The narrative about the “perpetual campaign” is generally kind of facile, but this whole thing has a weirdly campaign-trail quality to it.
Silver is hardly a take no prisoners lefty, but his observation about the spending freeze gimmick having a “weirdly campaign trail quality to it” echoes the criticism he deems “facile” that this administration has never settled down to govern and has instead, partaken of a perpetual campaign with set piece speeches, town halls, and rallies reminiscent of the campaign trail.
Missing in this is the indefinable “leadership” that a president should be providing. From giving minimal direction in drafting the stimulus bill to Obama’s curious detachment from the health care reform battles, there appears to me to be a solid case that can be made regarding the president’s lack of governing skills.
Here’s Brad DeLong:
As one deficit-hawk journalist of my acquaintance says this evening, this is a perfect example of fundamental unseriousness: rather than make proposals that will actually tackle the long-term deficit–either through future tax increases triggered by excessive deficits or through future entitlement spending caps triggered by excessive deficits–come up with a proposal that does short-term harm to the economy without tackling the deficit in any serious and significant way.
The spending freeze is mostly for show. First, it won’t begin until 2011. Secondly, it will only cut around $250 billion by 2020 - a drop in the bucket when you take into account that the projected national debt at that point will be $20 trillion. The only way to truly tackle the deficit is to drink the hemlock and go after entitlements - specifically, Social Security and Medicare. Ending the wars would be a good idea too - as far as deficit reduction - but there are other reasons to keep spending money to prosecute those conflicts.
This leaves less than you might think to cut from defense. That’s because out of the $685 billion DoD budget, almost $160 billion is spent on the health, housing, feeding, and clothing of the soldiers. Pensions are another item, as are civilians at the Pentagon, and military contractors already performing functions the Pentagon can’t afford to handle in-house. All told, the best a deficit hawk could expect to cut from defense without hurting the soldiers (but with untold consequences to our readiness and logistics), is a percentage of about $260 billion in procurement, research, and construction.
How much of that can you cut without hurting our overall security posture? Depends on how badly you think we need to modernize some systems, maintain others, and keep our readiness up to specs. In short, cutting defense spending is not a panacea for reducing our deficits, although leaving it off the table is a mistake in my opinion. The danger is that politicians will go too far and start cutting muscle and sinew instead of fat. It’s happened before in the mid 1970’s, and again immediately after the cold war. It could certainly happen again.
Meanwhile, do you feel Paul Rosenberg’s pain?
Obama is now intentionally recreating FDR’s mistake of 1937, when he prematurely cut back spending to try to balance the budget, and sent the country into a new recession.
Specifically: He’s going to announce a spending freeze on domestic programs (but not, of course, on the military) that is “projected to save $250 billion.” The rationale is that he wants to appease folks worried about runaway deficits. Which is just what FDR was worried about in 1937.
This is Bush-style idiocy. There is no other word for it.
Adding insult to injury, at the same time, he’s also proposing more Ronald Reagan/GW Bush tax cuts… which will, of course, increase the runaway deficits.
And he’s also talking about privatizing NASA. Because privatizing the Pentagon turned out so great!
It’s time to seriously start talking about primarying Obama in 2012. He’s now officially the most conservative Democratic President since Grover Cleveland. And the dumbest one since James Buchanan.
Pretty strong stuff - and pretty stupid when you scan the Democratic firmament and try to find someone brainless enough to challenge a sitting president. No doubt Ralph Nader or Dennis Kucinich could be convinced to take up the progressive standard, but Hillary Clinton is far to smart to throw away her career in a quixotic attempt to unseat an incumbent chief executive.
Whither Paul Krugman on the freeze?
It’s appalling on every level.
It’s bad economics, depressing demand when the economy is still suffering from mass unemployment. Jonathan Zasloff writes that Obama seems to have decided to fire Tim Geithner and replace him with “the rotting corpse of Andrew Mellon” (Mellon was Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, who according to Hoover told him to “liquidate the workers, liquidate the farmers, purge the rottenness”.)
It’s bad long-run fiscal policy, shifting attention away from the essential need to reform health care and focusing on small change instead.
And it’s a betrayal of everything Obama’s supporters thought they were working for. Just like that, Obama has embraced and validated the Republican world-view — and more specifically, he has embraced the policy ideas of the man he defeated in 2008. A correspondent writes, “I feel like an idiot for supporting this guy.”
Krugman concedes, “Right now, this looks like pure disaster.” I think the case is being made by both right and left that “disaster” is too tame a term to describe the first year of Obama’s presidency.
Obama is a nice fellow, a good family man, a stirring communicator, a man not without smarts, but also someone in totally over his head in the oval office.
It turns out the criticisms many of us have leveled at the president over this first year have not been distractions but rather have pointed to disturbing patterns that are now recognized as serious faults by many on the left as well. The president has not been a total failure but on many big issues he simply hasn’t been there. Stim bill, health care reform, terrorism, even climate change - all these issues have shown a management style by the president lacking in leadership and focus.
His lack of leadership on health care reform has been a godsend for opponents. Talking about it, making speeches on it, being closely engaged on the issue are all well and good. But at crucial moments when his personal intervention and leadership would have put the measure over the top, he either dropped the ball or failed miserably. How many times did Democrats plead with the White House to give them strong direction?
The melodrama surrounding the public option is a good example of what happens when presidents drop the ball. The president is the leader of the government and his party. How recalcitrant would a Ben Nelson or Blanche Lincoln have been if he had cracked the whip on the public option? We’ll never know because for whatever reason, Obama failed to lead.
We are told that this is not his “style,” that he prefers building consensus rather than confrontation. I suggest he change his style before he becomes irrelevant. Sometimes, a leader has to knock some heads together. Obama not only hasn’t done this, he has shown no appetite to do so.
If Obama is going to substitute gimmicks like this spending freeze for serious policy, nothing will change. Sure, he’ll have a larger core of supporters than Bush had - probably close to the mid-40’s in support as opposed to the low 30’s for Bush. But serious people will stop paying attention to him.
And for a president, that is the kiss of death.