President Barack Obama insisted four years ago that the nation must make “hard decisions” to preserve entitlement programs.
But on Monday, the “hard choices” he spoke of on health care and the deficit came with a major caveat: He’s not willing to give up much…
The president has never precisely defined what hard choices he would be willing to make on Medicare and Social Security. It’s not even clear what he would do if he had the power to remake the programs on his own, without worrying about opposition from Republicans or Democrats.
And though Obama has talked about shared sacrifice from both parties, he has not gotten to the point in deficit negotiations at which he’s had to pressure rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers to cross their red line on the sacred issues, as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did with his own party in raising taxes.
There was a make-believe quality to President Obama’s second inaugural address, as if all that is required to solve serious problems are the intelligence to produce proper policies and the political grit to get them approved. Perish the thought that there are deep conflicts among the things that Americans want, or the possibility that some problems lack easy, obvious and inexpensive remedies. This isn’t the vision Obama was peddling…
Excluding [entitlement] programs from even modest budget cuts — as Obama seems inclined to do — imposes huge costs on the young. Their taxes will rise, big deficits will persist or spending cuts will be concentrated on other programs more important to the working population (for starters, grants to state and local governments). There’s no honest way around these conflicts, but Obama pretended they don’t exist…
The job of the president is not merely to inspire. It is first and foremost to inform — to help people see the world as it is, not as they wish it to be — and then to craft policies based on that understanding. Barack Obama is so confident of his rhetorical powers that he violates such self-restraint. In his speech, he casually mentioned “hard choices” but didn’t say what they are; he offhandedly acknowledged that combatting climate change will be “long” but didn’t say why. His make-believe assumptions sound good but will have a short shelf life.
“It doesn’t matter what mode the president is in. It doesn’t matter what mode the Republican Party is in. There’s a power greater than both of them. It’s called math, and the math is going to consume us.”
So said Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn on “Morning Joe” this week while discussing the president’s inaugural address. As the president and his opponents prepare to scrap over social issues in circular debates that will produce far more heat than light, the possibility of an economic meltdown in America grows exponentially in these uncertain days because of the president’s aversion to arithmetic…
Mr. Obama should call Tom Coburn to the White House today to begin planning how to pay down the debt, balance the budget and save Medicare. He should but he won’t. Instead, Barack Obama will keep playing to his base, blaming his opponents and doing everything in his power to avoid making the tough decisions required to fix this problem.
In one perfunctory paragraph, he referred to American skepticism of central authority, to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured by government, and to the country’s insistence on hard work and personal responsibility — before moving on to the unfinished social-justice agenda at vastly greater length.
In describing these ambitions, many of which I support, he conveyed no sense of the dilemmas they will require Washington to confront. It was as though the need, say, to preserve Medicare in exactly its present form is a self-evident moral truth, admitting of no legitimate countervailing argument or principled compromise.
Obama repeatedly jabbed Republicans, reminding them who just won the election (the derisive reference to “takers” leapt out at me). That’s fine, I suppose, but almost half the country voted for the other party’s candidate, and they’re U.S. citizens, too. A little generosity to the losers wouldn’t have cost Obama anything, but he offered none.
What hard choices? He doesn’t tell us. And how do we control health care costs? Not with structural reforms to Medicare, but judging from his signature domestic policy accomplishment, greater involvement of the state.
Strikingly, Obama’s allusions to the nation’s asphyxiating debt and the entitlement programs driving it accounted for just 94 words of the 2,142 he spoke in his second inaugural – less than five percent of the speech. (Obama’s section on climate change was twice as long.) Both times the president spoke of entitlements and deficits, Obama defended the programs but gave no hint at the steps he would take to address the rising debt…
The lack of attention to the debt from Obama was not an oversight. It’s simply not a priority. Obama promised to cut the deficit in half during his first term. He hasn’t even pretended to do so. When the commission he appointed to look at debt and deficits reported its findings, he ignored them. And when the president’s top adviser, David Axelrod, was asked last summer about Obama’s second term priorities, he listed six separate issues – the economy, education, investment in research/manufacturing, trade, energy, and immigration. He did not mention debt or deficits.
For Obama, five of those six priorities will mean more spending, bigger government. How will we pay for them?
What programs are so inadequate that he is willing to see them reformed? Where is he willing to change the means to continue achieving the ends? What hard choices does he have in mind to reduce the deficit and the cost of health care? What does it mean to “reject the belief” that we are forced into a choice between the young and the old when we have massive government programs that compel exactly that choice and yet the president refuses to change them?
In fact, it is precisely the vision laid out in the rest of the president’s speech that has brought us to this difficult moment. Our foremost domestic challenges now almost all have to do with mitigating the enormous damage done to our economic dynamism, our social fabric, and our fiscal prospects by the public exertions most directly attributable to the sort of progressivism Obama laid out. This generation and the next one (at least) will spend their political energies trying to pick up the pieces of the Great Society and to construct alternatives to its foremost achievements that are better suited to the kind of country we are and want to be. And today’s progressives are very poorly suited to that task, because they do not see the problem, and they have a rather peculiar notion of the kind of country we are and want to be.
An inaugural address is not historically the place for a Sister Souljah moment, as when Bill Clinton in 1992 showed he would not pander to his African-American supporters by denouncing the violent lyrics of a popular singer.
But since Obama was willing to use the inaugural address to criticize the motives and wisdom of his opponents, it was a notable absence that he never turned the spotlight on his own side — are there any issues in which Democrats need to rethink old assumptions or take steps that might run counter to the wishes of their own constituencies?
Obama knows the answer is yes. The inaugural speech noted that “We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.” Beyond that one line, however, the speech did nothing to prepare or inspire his own party or the public at large for those choices.
And, for now, the Washington scorecard shows a glaring contradiction: House Speaker John Boehner, who sometimes is mocked by White House officials for being too weak to lead his own party, did cast a vote against GOP orthodoxy this month to raise taxes. Obama has never sought to whip his party behind a vote, much less signed into law, a break from Democratic orthodoxy with his own plan for trimming costly entitlements.
I also think Obama misunderstands this moment. The Progressive Era, New Deal and Great Society laws were enacted when America was still a young and growing nation. They were enacted in a nation that was vibrant, raw, underinstitutionalized and needed taming.
We are no longer that nation. We are now a mature nation with an aging population. Far from being underinstitutionalized, we are bogged down with a bloated political system, a tangled tax code, a byzantine legal code and a crushing debt…
Reinvigorating a mature nation means using government to give people the tools to compete, but then opening up a wide field so they do so raucously and creatively. It means spending more here but deregulating more there. It means facing the fact that we do have to choose between the current benefits to seniors and investments in our future, and that to pretend we don’t face that choice, as Obama did, is effectively to sacrifice the future to the past.
[I]t fell to the 45th president-in-waiting to encapsulate the ethos of the age in one deft sound bite: What difference does it make? Hillary Clinton’s instantly famous riposte at the Benghazi hearings is such a perfect distillation that it surely deserves to be the national motto of the United States…
Well, it’s the difference between cool and reality — and, as Hillary’s confident reply appeared to suggest, and the delirious media reception of it confirmed, reality comes a poor second in the Obama era. The presumption of conservatives has always been that one day cold, dull reality would pierce the klieg-light sheen of Obama’s glamour. Indeed, that was the premise of Mitt Romney’s reductive presidential campaign. But, just as Beyoncé will always be way cooler than some no-name operatic soprano or a male voice choir, so Obama will always be cooler than a bunch of squaresville yawneroos boring on about jobs and debt and entitlement reform. Hillary’s cocksure sneer to Senator Johnson of Wisconsin made it explicit. At a basic level, the “difference” is the difference between truth and falsity, but the subtext took it a stage further: No matter what actually happened that night in Benghazi, you poor sad loser Republicans will never succeed in imposing that reality and its consequences on this administration.
“You know, it just seems like there’s less people pulling the wagon and more people in the wagon, and at some point the wagon is going to break.”