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.”
The crowd at Open Left is talking about primarying him in 2012 over this. In fairness, even a nominal libertarian like Megan McArdle thinks it might be a mistake (albeit less of one) to detour from Keynesianism right now the way FDR did in 1937, but remember the fine print from yesterday’s announcement. The One didn’t say he was freezing all spending; he said he was freezing discretionary spending that’s unrelated to “security.” If he wants to keep pushing stimulus money out the door, he could do it by funding new security projects. Not the left’s first choice, admittedly, but if the point is to simply get money moving in the economy, there’s one way.
But even if he goes that route, like Nate Silver, I’m mystified by what he’s trying to accomplish politically here. The basic idea is to win back independents by showing that Democrats are serious about trimming government bloat, right? Well, (a) the savings from the freeze are too small to impress many fiscal conservatives, (b) if Obama does try to compensate by ramping up security spending, he’ll be attacked by righties for having supposedly broken his freeze promise (even though he actually wouldn’t be breaking it, but oh well) and (c) the outrage on the left over even a small freeze may end up convincing indies that congressional Democrats will never, ever cut spending and are simply hopeless — which would be a complete backfire. In fact, given the progressive outcry, it’s an open question if Congress will even sign off on this: Reid is noncommittal, and if ObamaCare goes down, they’re going to have to give the base something or else turnout will collapse in the midterms. This would have made some sense if Obama had tried it in 2012, since then, even if the House and Senate shot it down, he’d benefit personally in the election by being able to claim that at least he tried. But there’s no personal benefit to doing it now. On the contrary, he’s forced congressional Dems — whose political lives are already on the line — into a horrible dilemma: Either they reject the freeze and piss off independents or they approve the freeze and piss off the left. Smooth move, champ.
A little mood music for you.