Gunwalker and the budget: Crises in the integrity of government

The mainstream media are failing to address two central truths about key domestic issues for America this summer.

1.  Agencies of the US federal government created the “Gunwalker” problem.

2.  President Obama is the one who will decide who gets paid after 2 August, if there is no budget deal.

The two issues are largely unrelated, except through the principles on which the Obama administration has handled them and the MSM are dealing with them.  The latter principle is one of slavishly repeating the talking points put out by the Obama administration.  In both Gunwalker and the budget stand-off, the administration has relied on obfuscation and unrealistic narratives to frame the public discussion.  And the MSM are largely acting as a giant repeater, propagating the original signal without modification or loss of fidelity.

In the wake of Gunwalker, a false premise is in full swing and is already shaping policy.  Pajamas Media has thoroughly documented the inane credulity of the Washington Post and other news outlets regarding the administration’s press releases on the Gunwalker scandal.  But I was amazed on Friday to see A.B. Stoddard chirp out (on Fox) the administration talking point about new gun-sale reporting requirements.  (Video here; the title says “”Libyan Rebel Recognition” but the first topic is Gunwalker.)

Granted, A.B. Stoddard is on the left side of the political spectrum.  But it doesn’t require any particular ideological posture to recognize that increasing restrictions on the people is not a method of “repairing” (her verb) the damage done by a rogue federal agency operation.  Nothing about the revelations from Gunwalker justifies changing gun-enforcement measures that affect the people.  It was the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) that directed licensed gun dealers and local agents to ignore activity they would otherwise have pursued as suspicious, under existing law and existing enforcement standards.  The problem in this situation is not current law or enforcement standards; it’s BATFE.

The outcome of the operation clearly doesn’t justify increasing gun restrictions on the people.   The falsity of the premise articulated by Ms. Stoddard is so laughably obvious, it can’t help evoking the propaganda campaigns of Soviet-era Pravda.  Government creates a problem, the media talk it up, and then government increases restrictions on the people to “fix” it.

If Obama presides over a sea of unsent Social Security checks in August, that too will be a problem of his administration’s making.  As confirmed in Congressional hearings this week, there will be plenty of funds to service the debt and meet Social Security and defense obligations after 2 August.  Choosing not to meet them – choosing instead to pay, for example, the salaries of union workers in the non-defense civil service – will be up to Obama.

In a larger sense, Obama would be choosing not to accept a budget deal before 2 August (and has so far failed to present one of his own), when the proximate problem is the spending that he has vigorously promoted.  Without his increases in discretionary spending from 2009 to 2011, he could well have gotten a long way into 2012 without encountering the federal debt ceiling.

As I outlined Thursday on the American Hour radio show, with Tom Garcia, entitlement spending (Social Security and Medicare) increased by about $200 billion from 2010 to 2011, when the bow-wave of the Baby Boomer retirements hit.  “Welfare” spending – including unemployment and food stamps – increased by about $100 billion in the same period because of the recession.  (See the suite of sites here for a gross, top-level view of federal revenues and spending by year.)

But these increases added together come to less than half of just the $787 billion Obama stimulus package.  Moreover, they were programmed and predictable; we knew they were coming.  Annual federal revenues have declined, meanwhile, due to the recession (the 2011 pace has them down 13% since 2008, with tax rates remaining unchanged).  With big bills predictably coming due, and an existing debt ceiling, Obama has pushed to increase discretionary spending by 16% from 2009 to 2011.

In both matters, Gunwalker and the budget stand-off, it is the actions of the government that have created the mess; the “fix” proposed by the Obama administration puts the constraints and burdens on the people, without addressing the behavior of government that created the “problem” at hand; the administration is choosing to do things it has the freedom not to do; and  the MSM are simply repeating the administration’s narrative about what’s going on, without analysis or criticism.

Peggy Noonan invokes Reagan in her Wall Street Journal opinion piece today, observing that he would not, in a budget stand-off, have addressed the people with veiled threats as Obama has.  But I think Reagan’s tenure teaches us a larger and more important lesson.  Reagan proved that it is remarkably effective to stand up to the shrill forces of social collectivism.  When you don’t compromise with them, it is they who lose viability.  Almost no one will recognize that that is happening until they collapse; the pioneer who does stand up to them can expect to be doubted and excoriated all along the way.  But ultimately, collectivists whose power comes from overburdening the people hold the weaker hand.  They cannot win unless we let them.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Weekly Standard online, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative.