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March 09, 2009

Obama's "Honest Budget"

My Dad and I are huge fans of Robert Samuelson. Dad has been reading him longer than I have. He writes:

Robert Samuelson has never before in my memory taken to criticism of a President . He has always been very even in his criticism of the government, sticking to issues that affect the economy.

Now I will be the first to admit that I haven't had time to validate my Dad's observation regarding Samuelson's columns, but what I can say is that one of the reasons I have read him for as long as I have is that, like David Broder, he strikes me as one of those rare beasts: a pundit who puts his operating principles first and then even-handedly applies them to the situation at hand, accepting wherever this process leads him even if he doesn't like the conclusion. Too many others seem to start from a predetermined conclusion and reason backwards until they can justify it.

What Samuelson has to say is devastating:

To those who believe that Barack Obama is a different kind of politician -- more honest, more courageous -- please don't examine his administration's budget. If you do, you may sadly conclude that he resembles presidents stretching back to John Kennedy in one crucial respect. He won't tax voters for all the government services they want. That's the main reason we've run budget deficits in 43 of the past 48 years.

Obama is a great pretender. He repeatedly says he is doing things that he isn't, trusting his powerful rhetoric to obscure the difference. He has made "responsibility" a personal theme; the budget's cover line is "A New Era of Responsibility." He says the budget begins "making the tough choices necessary to restore fiscal discipline." It doesn't.

With today's depressed economy, big deficits are unavoidable for some years. But let's assume that Obama wins reelection. By his last year, 2016, the economy presumably will have long recovered. What does his final budget look like? Well, it runs a $637 billion deficit, equal to 3.2 percent of the economy (gross domestic product), projects Obama's Office of Management and Budget. That would match Ronald Reagan's last deficit, 3.1 percent of GDP in 1988, so fiercely criticized by Democrats.

As a society, we should pay in taxes what it costs government to provide desired services. If benefits don't seem equal to burdens, then the spending isn't worth it. (Exceptions: deficits in wartime and economic slumps.)

Now that line of reasoning might not be welcome to soem conservatives. For those who didn't support the Bush administration's deficit spending, it will be be music to their ears. But when you put partisan sniping aside, this isn't a Bush-is-right, Obama-is-wrong issue. The fact is that Bush is gone and Obama's leadership must be evaluated on its own merits, not using a two wrongs make a right retroactive justification. By that reasoning, there is never any reason to depart from Washington's dishonesty-as-usual rhetoric.

After all, no matter what you do, it's justified by what the last guy did. Samuelson echoes the points I made earlier this morning:

A prudent president would have made a "tough choice" -- concentrated on the economy; deferred his more contentious agenda. Similarly, Obama claims to seek bipartisanship but, in reality, doesn't. His bipartisanship consists of including a few Republicans in his Cabinet and inviting some Republican congressmen to the White House for the Super Bowl. It does not consist of fashioning proposals that would attract bipartisan support on their merits. Instead, he clings to dubious, partisan policies (mortgage cramdown, union card check) that arouse fierce opposition.

Obama thinks he can ignore these blatant inconsistencies. Like many smart people, he believes he can talk his way around problems. Maybe. He's helped by much of the media, which seem so enthralled with him that they don't see glaring contradictions. During the campaign, Obama said he would change Washington's petty partisanship; he also advocated a highly partisan agenda. Both claims could not be true.

I'm not sure I ever had a whole lot of trust in Barack Obama, but I have been willing to give him the benefit of some doubt because unlike Rush Limbaugh, I don't want to see him fail. I may disagree with him on the best way to fix the economy, but I'm not willing to see my country go up in flames in order to prove a point. I remain confident, despite my worry over the road we're taking, that America can survive even misguided policies. Eventually we muddle through and learn the hard lessons of history.

But I'm rapidly losing trust in the fundamental honesty of this president. Say what you will about George Bush: you always knew where he was coming from.

Posted by Cassandra at March 9, 2009 09:11 AM

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Comments

When I say I want the President to fail, I don't mean that I want to see poor results from his policies. I fear his policies inevitably will lead to horrible results, and therefore I hope he'll fail to institute his policies. That will give us a chance to implement other policies instead.

Once disastrous policies have been implemented, I only hope they yield their results as quickly and clearly as possible, so we can be guided by unambiguous data. If they turn out to yield fabulous results, against all my expectations, then I'll have to change my ideas -- as I did when President Reagan's foreign policy won the Cold War in a way I'd never have predicted.

Posted by: Texan99 at March 9, 2009 11:55 AM

"But I'm rapidly losing trust in the fundamental honesty of this president."

What do you mean "losing trust"? You mean you actually still trust His Majesty up to a point? H

Hell, you know only too well that over a year ago folks who actually took the time to review Obama's record (at least the part of it that's actually accessible) were warning about His Hopeychangeness's repeated use of exaggerating, temporizing, tactical flattery, racial thuggery, and even outright lying whenever the mood struck him.

Last November, a majority of the voters wanted "hope and change" to the point where they elected a narcissistic confidence man to give it to them--cost-free, of course. Damn, they're going to feel violated when they finally realize they've been had.

Posted by: MarkJ at March 9, 2009 01:05 PM


Good post, but lost its path when it averred that Rush Limbaugh wants the country/economy to go up in flames. 180 degrees off course. Best to educate oneself about what Rush said and meant:

The transcript of Rush Limbaugh's initial announcement and explanation of his comment, 1/16/2009:
http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_011609/content/01125113.guest.html
It has been intellectually dishonest to highlight the Famous Four Words without their context.

The transcript of Rush Limbaugh's speech to CPAC, 2/28/2009:
http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_030209/content/01125106.guest.html
SEE PARAGRAPH 17. Better: Read all paragraphs through #17. Better still: Read the whole speech. BEST: Watch the entire video of the speech.

Posted by: DeerMe52 at March 9, 2009 01:11 PM

I have both read the entire speech AND watched the video. As Patterico's post demonstrated, no one is really sure what he meant to say. Even many of those who were defending him couldn't disagree about exactly what he DID say:

However, when he says “I want Obama to fail,” what did he mean? His line could have meant one of two things:

1. Rush opposes President Obama’s policies, and feels that they are likely to lead to more suffering. He hopes Obama’s policies are never enacted to begin with. However, if they are enacted, as seems likely, he wants to see them succeed. He wants the economy to do well. He doesn’t want Americans out of work.

2. Rush opposes President Obama’s policies, and feels that they are likely to lead to more suffering. So, even if the policies do get enacted, Rush still wants them to fail. This is not because Rush wants more suffering for the American people. But he feels that, in the long run, the quick and dramatic failure of the policies might lead to Rush’s own proposed policies being adopted: namely, spending less and employing the free market. In the long run, this would be best for America.

The only "quick and dramatic failure" I can envision that would lead us to throw out Obama's policies and adopt Rush's policy preferences would be a fairly spectacular BAD reaction to Obama's direction.

Given how entrenched most folks are in their politics, it's hard to argue that utter rejection of Obama's policies wouldn't entail at least a significant part of the economy going up in flames. That's the evidence that would shift political opinion.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 9, 2009 01:36 PM

Unlike Rush L. ?

Rush doesn't want Obama to fail, he wants his policies to fail ... just like you do ...

Unlike Rush ??? ... what a chickensh*t cop out ... makes the entire post worthless ...

coward ...

Posted by: Jeff at March 9, 2009 03:25 PM

Jeff, if you have an argument to make, try backing it up with evidence or at least a coherent argument.

Name calling is best left for the school playground; the last refuge of the inarticulate or unprepared.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 9, 2009 04:12 PM

While I do not believe Her Snarkiness needs me to defend her Jeff, I am not so sure that she has offered a merde du poulet copout.

I do not trust Pbo any farther than his security cordon would allow me to get to him, and in my mind, I know his policies (as they have been articulated to this point) and most of his appointments are a disaster in the making, but in my heart, it's my country and he is the President. His failure affects us all, so we need to hope for the best.

My personal "hope" is that someone manages to force the issue of his personal documentation and he is forced out of office as a usurper, and every action he has taken or authorized is immediately invalidated and rolled back. It would be tres vilain, but it would show we are a nation of laws and no one is above them.

Obama said on Feb. 16, ”Don’t tell me words don’t matter. 'I have a dream’— just words? ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ — just words? ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself’ — just words? Just speeches?”

So The Constitution of the United States? Just Words? Come on Pbo...show 'em or fold 'em. This is more than high stakes poker.

Posted by: Kbob in Katy at March 9, 2009 04:14 PM

Well, that's harsh, Jeff.

People refuse to study the past, won't pay attention to the present but expect to have the future delivered on a silver platter.

As Shakespeare said about the future, "It is the undiscovered country."

Somewhere out there, is the future, where we are all going to live. At best, we peer through a glass, darkly, and try to fathom the shape of things to come, from the shape of things known to our posterity. Some, more prudent than others, are loathe to extrapolate too much from past and present, because we Americans are a hopeful people, still generally expecting the best of Man, rather than the worst.
I, personally, have little to no faith in Obama at this point. I've seen enough. But Cassandra is a wise and prudent woman, and is careful not to commit herself to saying and doing rash and careless things, as I and others might.
There is always hope; Cassandra yet, I think, hopes for the best from our people, our country and those we have entrusted to govern it

Time marches on.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at March 9, 2009 04:15 PM

"Unlike Rush L. ?

Rush doesn't want Obama to fail, he wants his policies to fail ... just like you do ...

Unlike Rush ??? ... what a chickensh*t cop out ... makes the entire post worthless ...

coward ..."

Posted by: Jeff at March 9, 2009 03:25 PM

Jeff, perhaps you didn't quite read the post like you thought you did......

"I'm not sure I ever had a whole lot of trust in Barack Obama, but I have been willing to give him the benefit of some doubt because unlike Rush Limbaugh, I don't want to see him fail. I may disagree with him on the best way to fix the economy, but I'm not willing to see my country go up in flames in order to prove a point."

And, if by this comment: "The only "quick and dramatic failure" I can envision that would lead us to throw out Obama's policies and adopt Rush's policy preferences would be a fairly spectacular BAD reaction to Obama's direction.

Given how entrenched most folks are in their politics, it's hard to argue that utter rejection of Obama's policies wouldn't entail at least a significant part of the economy going up in flames. That's the evidence that would shift political opinion.

Posted by Cassandra, you mean to assert that Cassandra has implied a desire to see the current administration's policies fail, and therefore, her country right along with it, then I would say that she has only noted what has been an historical fact for many decades in this country.

It has long been a political fact that as long as this country is chugging along, the general populace is happy to leave in office those who are *currently* in office -- without any further thought as to whether or not those *currently* in office were actually responsible for getting and keeping the country chugging along. It's only been the near-to-catastrophic that has gotten the attention of those who have been raised in an age of instant gratification -- and their enablers. And, given the strength of conviction most people have regarding their politics, it has taken an event such as "a significant part of the economy going up in flames" before they consider the possibility that something *else* needs to be done. By then, of course, it's usually a little late.

Posted by: DL Sly at March 9, 2009 05:05 PM

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