Early blunders will haunt Obama

August 3, 2011


The story is that as Mark Twain and novelist William Dean Howells stepped outside one morning, a downpour began and Howells asked Twain, “Do you think it will stop?” Twain answered, “It always has.” The debt-ceiling impasse has, as things generally do, ended, and a post-mortem validates conservatives’ portrayal of Barack Obama and their dismay about the dangers and incompetence of liberalism’s legacy, the regulatory state.

For weeks, you could not fling a brick in Washington without hitting someone with a debt-reduction plan — unless you hit Obama, whose plan, which he intimated was terrifically brave, was never put on paper. In a prime-time spill of his usual applesauce about millionaires, billionaires and oil companies, he said, yet again, that justice demanded a “balanced” solution — one involving new revenues. His whistle into the wind came after Washington’s most consequential Democrat, Harry Reid, proposed a revenue-free solution.

By affirming liberalism’s lodestar — the principle that government’s grasp on national resources must constantly increase — Obama made himself a spectator in a Washington more conservative than it was during the Reagan presidency. By accepting, as he had no choice but to do, Congress’ resolution of the crisis, Obama annoyed liberals. They indict him for apostasy from their one-word catechism, “More!” But egged on by them, he talked himself into a corner. Having said that failure to raise the ceiling would mean apocalypse, he could hardly say failure to raise revenues would be worse.

As with his dozens of exhortations during the health care debate, and his campaigning for candidates in 2009 and 2010, his debt-ceiling rhetoric was impotent. Still, the debt debate was instructive about recent history, the openness of America’s political process, and the nature of the American regime.

Regarding recent history: Panic-mongers warned, “Raise the ceiling lest the stock market experience a TARP convulsion.” Yes, the market declined almost 778 points when the House rejected TARP. But who remembered that after TARP was quickly enacted, in the next five months the market lost another 3,800 points?

Regarding the political process: There are limits to what can be accomplished by those controlling only half of Congress, but the tea party has demonstrated that the limits are elastic under the pressure of disciplined and durable passion. As Tom Brokaw said in Washington on “Meet the Press” last Sunday, the debt-ceiling drama ended as it did because the tea party got angry, got organized and got here.

Regarding the federal regime: Before this debate, who knew that the government sends more than 100 million checks or electronic transfers a month to employees, vendors and — much the largest group — entitlement beneficiaries, including 21 million households receiving food stamps?

During various liberal ascendancies, the federal spider has woven a web of dependencies. The political purpose has been to produce growing constituencies of voters disposed to vote Democratic. This disposition, aka the entitlement mentality, is triggered by making the constituencies constantly apprehensive about the security of their status as wards of government.

Obama’s presidency may last 17 or 65 more months, but it has been irreversibly neutered by two historic blunders made at its outset. It defined itself by health care reform most Americans did not desire, rather than by economic recovery. And it allowed, even encouraged, self-indulgent liberal majorities in Congress to create a stimulus that confirmed conservatism’s portrayal of liberalism as an undisciplined agglomeration of parochial appetites. This sterile stimulus discredited stimulus as a policy.

Obama’s 2012 problem is that he dare not run as a liberal but cannot run from his liberalism. The left’s narrative for 2012 is that by not offering another stimulus, Washington is being dangerously frugal. This, even though his stimulus — including cash for clunkers, cash for caulkers, dollars for dishwashers (yes, there actually were money showers for home improvements and greener appliances), etc. — led downhill.

The economy’s calamitous 0.8 percent growth in the first half of this year indicates that the already appalling deficit projections for coming years are much too optimistic. The debt increases caused by anemic growth and job creation may dwarf whatever debt reduction results from the process initiated by the debt-ceiling agreement. This may portend a vicious downward spiral as increased borrowing and the burden of debt service further suffocate America’s dynamism.

America may be one-third of the way through a lost decade — or worse, toward a lost national identity. So, Republicans have their 2012 theme: “Is this the best we can do?”

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. His email is georgewill@washpost.com.


cato_the_elder 6 years, 10 months ago

"During various liberal ascendancies, the federal spider has woven a web of dependencies. The political purpose has been to produce growing constituencies of voters disposed to vote Democratic. This disposition, aka the entitlement mentality, is triggered by making the constituencies constantly apprehensive about the security of their status as wards of government."

Every free American must begin to understand this. It's at the root of what enables liberal Democrats to obtain power. When practiced as it has been increasingly for 80 years, it is absolutely antithetical to individual freedom.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 10 months ago

Including you, pal. The hatred you spew on this website is close to unprecedented.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 10 months ago

You may have set a record for hateful, ad hominem invective since having only signed up on July 26. Your hate-filled, rookie comments may entitle you to the Hateful Rookie of the Year Award.

jonas_opines 6 years, 10 months ago

As well, then, that he gets handed the award by a tried and true veteran of hate and vileness, eh Cato?

Told anyone else recently that we'd be better off if they got imprisoned in a Chinese gulag?

cato_the_elder 6 years, 10 months ago

I see that you still haven't forgotten the time you fell on your face trying to defend Red China as a place of peace and love, only to have a pie thrown in your face by someone else following the discussion who'd actually lived there. I haven't forgotten it either.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 10 months ago

Jeez, George often spews idiocy (and today is no exception,) but at least there is often some amount of originality to his idiocy.

But apparently George was too close to deadline, and had to resort to the "Obama never presented a plan" memo that nearly every conservative pundit, politician and blogger have been reciting for the last several weeks.

bevy 6 years, 10 months ago

Yes, but he uses really big words so it makes him feel intelligent.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 10 months ago

bozo, the Mope in Chief's budget proposal got voted down 97-0 in the Senate earlier this year. Following that dreadful crash & burn, he stuck to telepromptering and finger-pointing.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 10 months ago

Like so many politicians and opinion writers working for a particular party these days, they know how to tell a story and make it sound good. Nobody has a more difficult job sorting through the facts than the American people themselves and no one gets more jerked around than the average American.

I think the American people are the big losers again and I think the debt deal the American people wanted was a mixture of cuts and tax increases and reform.

The idea that any tax increase is a job killer is a silly argument and the idea that we need massive spending increases on infrastructure is a silly argument as well.

Too bad the American people themselves did not get a chance to decide this thing.

Instead, we are saddled with professional liars, special interests and heavily funded partisan think tanks who are actually writing the legislation for our puppet representatives to sign off on.

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

The fact that companies have record profits and are laying people off in order to maintain them shows the flaw in trickle down theory.

Companies may employ more people if they have higher profits, and then again they may not.

In fact, given the way our culture works, they'd have to be pretty sure they could make more money by hiring people than by just banking the profits.

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

The point there, again, since you seem to have missed it, is that they have lots of profits, record high profits, and they're not using that extra money to hire anybody. In fact, they're laying people off.

So, the theory that says all we need to do is to make sure companies keep more of their profits, and that will result in them hiring people is simply wrong.

Our culture is pretty imbalanced in the direction of greed and maximizing profits. It's not hard to imagine another culture that actually valued people a bit more.

Scott Drummond 6 years, 10 months ago

And the people they hire may, or may not, be Americans.

As we have seen in recent years, they increasingly are NOT.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 10 months ago

In late January of 2013, the Mope in Chief will be back in his mob-financed Chicago mansion, puffing on a doobie & wondering if his telepromoter back in DC is going to miss him.

beatrice 6 years, 10 months ago

I guarantee that the next person you vote for for president will give speeches using a teleprompter. I also guarantee that the last several you voted for did as well.

I also prefered it when you used to call the president a "thug." It made the source of your hatred for this particular president that much more obvious.

jfhoosier 6 years, 10 months ago

It is embarrassing to see such loyalty to a letter next to your name (R or D). If people could really figure out how to sit down and have a conversation then we probably wouldn't be in this mess. Americans should figure out how to think for themselves instead of following figure heads unconditionally.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 10 months ago

It is becoming increasingly clear that our politicians and the system they have created for themselves is not working very well for the American people unless you believe the arguments that conflict like this is a good thing.

I believe this type of political environment of extreme partisanship and propaganda and deal making is what is leading to more and more expensive mistakes made by our government such as the recent banking crisis and the war in Iraq. You might also consider the Bush tax cuts to be a huge mistake. Some may look at the flawed health care bill and the damage the rhetoric itself did to our country as a major disaster.

I like the idea of term limits and removing some of the benefits that our law makers have bestowed on themselves. I think we need to get tough on these guys and gals who have made our lives so much tougher and who sit in an Ivory Tower and Lord it over us.

I would like to see a focus on Manufacturing and global competitiveness that we have not had in this country.

Perhaps we need a House Committee on Global Competitiveness and Manufacturing. Since this is such a crucial area in regards to our future, I think we need to consider a national strategy.

I believe the Republican idea of cutting taxes and pushing down wages is not going to work as the answer to competing with China and India. I believe the Democrat plan of giving more power to unions is also going to end in disaster.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 10 months ago

More wishful thinking by Will.

Right wingers want Obama to fail so badly that they see elements of his downfall everywhere.

Obama putting mustard instead of ketchup on his hot dog is a blunder that will cost him re election.

What a fantasy world right wingers inhabit.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 10 months ago

Agreed, but to the knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing teapublicans, it is a sign of elitism.

somedude20 6 years, 10 months ago

I would like to take a moment and thank you guys for all of the laughs that you provide me these days. As you may have heard, we are all going to die some day and of course that is a bummer but you people with your silly little view points sure do tickle my fancy, so thank you!!! You are my bestest friends now!

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 10 months ago

The SRS disaster in Lawrence is a perfect example of how politicians cannot manage anything. If they wanted to improve efficiencies and find ways to save money they could have made gradual changes over time and by working toward constant improvement and incremental changes that could be studied over time, they could have ended up with something better.

Instead, they acted like politicians and burned the building down and shot all the horses. At the same time, they paraded themselves as Christian Crusaders fighting against the sins of waste and liberalism.

The whole thing is going to end up saving no money and causing hardship to a lot of people.

How can people support this kind of governing?

Nellane Laney Croan Stussie 6 years, 10 months ago

There is no such thing as gradual change ... until we reach the point of catastrophic failure, politicians will continue to buy things with taxpayer money! See tody's article on the silly Comission increasing mill levy to fund more police!

Carol Bowen 6 years, 10 months ago

  1. Many of us wanted changes in health care. The old system was fraught with problems and costs were skyrocketing. The Affordable Healthcare Act addresses some of the funding issues, but not healthcare services. More needs to be done.
  2. George Will assumes that all entitlements are for poor slackers and the elderly. In an ljw article this week, developers and realtors were seeking relief. Then, there are the incentives for business. And who behind the scenes is kicking up a storm over certain budget cuts (fewer government contracts)? Are Medicare recipients protecting Part C or insurance companies who are subsidized for it?
  3. Private companies offering student loans do not like The Affordable Health Care Act, because they lost government subsidies for student loans.

Sooner or later, we have to stop the blame game. Everything we cut is going to have a domino affect. It's nobody's fault. We do have to move forward cautiously.

Scott Drummond 6 years, 10 months ago

Opt out or shot are not your only choices, of course.

Most likely you'll be outvoted and your opinion disregarded.

Jimo 6 years, 10 months ago

When is the summer intern heading back to school and George returning to his column?

At least that's what I assume explains: "government’s grasp on national resources must constantly increase." Such an objectively false statement would never have survived Will's routine fact-checking.

The government's grasp on national resources hasn't been so low since Truman was in office and has been falling fairly steadily for a decade.

(I wonder if this was the same intern that made the laughable errors about climate change in some of George's earlier columns?)

Scott Drummond 6 years, 10 months ago

"And it allowed, even encouraged, self-indulgent liberal majorities in Congress to create a stimulus that confirmed conservatism’s portrayal of liberalism as an undisciplined agglomeration of parochial appetites. This sterile stimulus discredited stimulus as a policy."

Actually, nearly 40% of the stimulus package was tax cuts which, once again, failed to produce any of the positive effects claimed by the tax cutting crowd.

One day we will learn that allowing small minorities to horde their wealth and spend it elsewhere around the world is not a way to nuture the Middle Class created by the Progressive policies of the 20th century.

Not yet. But one day.

beatrice 6 years, 10 months ago

It means that they will accept whatever is given to them as long as it comes from someone of their own party. Consider how upset people are by what some call "Obamacare," yet those most upset will likely end up running the architect of an almost identical health insurance plan, Mitt Romney, as their choice for president. It is just silly. I'm a Democrat primarily because of social issues, but to just run with the non-stop, my party is great and yours is evil nonsense is just that, nonsense.

January202013 6 years, 10 months ago

Wow. The lawrence leftists sure hate George WIll. The truth can hurt. I'll cut them a little slack though since they are still upset that Pravda is no longer published and that they are still unhappy about being on the losing side of the Cold War.

tbaker 6 years, 10 months ago

Liberals feel. Liberals care. They are all about the group, not the individual. A lot of them believe there really are enforceable rights to the property and services of productive people. The idea that people have the right to do as they will, make of their own lives what they want, and to protect their lives and their property from the plunder of the masses, well, that just doesn't compute.

Scott Drummond 6 years, 10 months ago

People, of course, do not have the right to do as they will, any more than the 3 year old brat does not have a right to do whatever he wants to the detriment of others.

We live in a society and there are rules and costs involved in enjoying continued participation in that society. In this country those rules are found in the Constitution and they protect your foolish notion that you have some sort of right to exist in your own oasis of libertarian nirvana. Without the collective and socialistic influence of the very masses (and their government) you despise, you and your imagined self reliance would be crushed mercilessly by every thief, bully and despot who noticed what meager possession you might accumulate.

It is indeed about the village. Unrestrained power of the individual leads to revolting creatures such as Rupert Murdoch, the Koch brothers, or, if you prefer the political realm, Sam Brownback or Pat Roberts.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 10 months ago

I think most of the hard right commentators probably hate most economists too. You cannot simply discount anyone who disagrees with you as being a left wing liberal.

The right wing has a big challenge because they can't seem to field a viable candidate for President and they cannot seem to articulate their message in a way that it makes sense to the American people.

Some of the Tea Party ideas are viable and make a lot of sense, but their way of going about changing the system is reckless and dangerous. To be fair, they are making the same mistakes as the Democrats starting in 2008. A lot of mistakes have been made.

That is why I am predicting a total house cleaning in the next election. Most of the people in Congress have to go. They are not the kind of people that are qualified to represent the American people.

Debt reduction has to include tax reform and revenue increases. Pushing for 0% tax on capital gains and other such ideas promoted by the Republicans is just as irresponsible as unlimited spending.

The people in our Congress are financial illiterates and Rick Perry in Texas is saying the problem is our lack of prayer. Michelle Bachmann's head is about to spin off with her insane rants.

I think the American people are completely fed up.

In spite of all of this, if the Republicans put any of the current candidates up against Obama they will get the spanking they deserve and Rick Perry is no answer.

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