Friday, July 29, 2011

The Great Divide - Limited Government vs. Obama Socialism

OBAMA'S PLAN FOR AMERICAImage by genetew via FlickrI entirely concur: These events will determine the very future of our republic. Limited government or socialism. Nothing between...T

We’re in the midst of a great four-year national debate on the size and reach of government, the future of the welfare state, indeed, the nature of the social contract between citizen and state. The distinctive visions of the two parties — social-democratic vs. limited-government — have underlain every debate on every issue since Barack Obama’s inauguration: the stimulus, the auto bailouts, health-care reform, financial regulation, deficit spending. Everything. The debt ceiling is but the latest focus of this fundamental divide.

The sausage-making may be unsightly, but the problem is not that Washington is broken, that ridiculous ubiquitous cliche. The problem is that these two visions are in competition, and the definitive popular verdict has not yet been rendered.

We’re only at the midpoint. Obama won a great victory in 2008 that he took as a mandate to transform America toward European-style social democracy. The subsequent counterrevolution delivered to that project a staggering rebuke in November 2010. Under our incremental system, however, a rebuke delivered is not a mandate conferred. That awaits definitive resolution, the rubber match of November 2012.

I have every sympathy with the conservative counterrevolutionaries. Their containment of the Obama experiment has been remarkable. But reversal — rollback, in Cold War parlance — is simply not achievable until conservatives receive a mandate to govern from the White House.

Lincoln is reputed to have said: I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky. I don’t know whether conservatives have God on their side (I keep getting sent to His voice mail), but I do know that they don’t have Kentucky — they don’t have the Senate, they don’t have the White House. And under our constitutional system, you cannot govern from one house alone. Today’s resurgent conservatism, with its fidelity to constitutionalism, should be particularly attuned to this constraint, imposed as it is by a system of deliberately separated — and mutually limiting — powers.

Given this reality, trying to force the issue — turn a blocking minority into a governing authority — is not just counter-constitutional in spirit but self-destructive in practice.

Consider the Boehner Plan for debt reduction. The Heritage Foundation’s advocacy arm calls it “regrettably insufficient.” Of course it is. That’s what happens when you control only half a branch. But the plan’s achievements are significant. It is all cuts, no taxes. It establishes the precedent that debt-ceiling increases must be accompanied by equal spending cuts. And it provides half a year to both negotiate more fundamental reform (tax and entitlement) and keep the issue of debt reduction constantly in the public eye.

I am somewhat biased about the Boehner Plan because for weeks I’ve been arguing (in this column and elsewhere) for precisely such a solution: a two-stage debt-ceiling hike consisting of a half-year extension with dollar-for-dollar spending cuts, followed by intensive negotiations on entitlement and tax reform. It’s clean. It’s understandable. It’s veto-proof. (Obama won’t dare.) The Republican House should have passed it weeks ago.

After all, what is the alternative? The Reid Plan with its purported $2 trillion of debt reduction? More than half of that comes from not continuing surge-level spending in Iraq and Afghanistan for the next 10 years. Ten years? We’re out of Iraq in 150 days. It’s all a preposterous “saving” from an entirely fictional expenditure.

The Congressional Budget Office has found that Harry Reid’s other discretionary savings were overestimated by $400 billion. Not to worry, I am told. Reid has completely plugged that gap. There will be no invasion of Canada next year (a bicentennial this-time-we’re-serious 1812 do-over). Huge savings. Huge.

The Obama Plan? There is no Obama plan. And the McConnell Plan, a final resort that punts the debt issue to Election Day, would likely yield no cuts at all.

Obama faces two massive problems — jobs and debt. They’re both the result of his spectacularly failed Keynesian gamble: massive spending that left us a stagnant economy with high and chronic unemployment — and a staggering debt burden. Obama is desperate to share ownership of this failure. Economic dislocation from a debt-ceiling crisis nicely serves that purpose — if the Republicans play along. The perfect out: Those crazy Tea Partyers ruined the recovery!

Why would any conservative collaborate with that ploy? November 2012 constitutes the new conservatism’s one chance to restructure government and change the ideological course of the country. Why risk forfeiting that outcome by offering to share ownership of Obama’s wreckage?
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Congress Stands Its Ground

Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States...Image via WikipediaWe are witnessing an virtual university course on constitutional governance. The first such episode in any of our lifetimes. I, for one, say "Hurray, and it's about time"!

WASHINGTON -- Between 6 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Sunday, the nation began a constitutional course-correction. The current occupant's vanity and naivete -- a dangerous amalgam -- are causing the modern presidency to buckle beneath the weight of its pretenses. And Congress is reasserting its responsibilities.

At his Friday news conference-cum-tantrum, President Obama imperiously summoned congressional leaders to his presence: "I've told" them "I want them here at 11 a.m." By Saturday, his administration seemed to be cultivating chaos by suddenly postulating a new deadline: The debt-ceiling impasse must end before Asian markets opened Sunday evening Eastern time, lest the heavens fall.

Those markets opened; the heavens held. The faux deadline, reportedly invoked at a Saturday White House meeting by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who should resign, inevitably seeped into the media and invited overseas panic, thereby risking the nation's currency, for brief tactical advantage.

Amid these tawdry episodes, House Speaker John Boehner signaled constitutional sanity regained: "Congress will forge a responsible path forward." Congress. Obama has marginalized himself.

Inordinate self-regard is an occupational hazard of politics and part of the job description of the rhetorical presidency, this incessant tutor. Still, upon what meat doth this our current Caesar feed that he has grown so great that he presumes to command leaders of a coequal branch of government? He once boasted (June 3, 2008) that he could influence the oceans' rise; he must be disabused of comparable delusions about controlling Congress.

When he was a lecturer on constitutional law, he evidently skipped the separation of powers doctrine. But, then, because this doctrine impedes the progressives' goal of unleashing untrammeled government, they have long loathed it: Woodrow Wilson, the first president to criticize the American founding, considered the separation of powers the Constitution's "radical defect."

It has, however, rescued the nation from Obama's preference for a "clean" debt-ceiling increase that would ignore the onrushing debt tsunami. There are 87 reasons for Obama's temporary conversion of convenience to the cause of spending restraint -- the 87 House Republican freshmen. Their inflexibility astonishes and scandalizes Washington because it reflects the rarity of serene fidelity to campaign promises.

Obama -- a demagogue for an age of smooth surfaces; Huey Long with a better tailor -- pretended Friday to wonder whether Republicans "can say yes to anything." Well.

House Republicans said yes to "cut, cap and balance." Senate Democrats, who have not produced a budget in more than 800 days, vowed to work all weekend debating this. But Friday they voted to table it, thereby ducking a straightforward vote on the only debt-reduction plan on paper, the only plan debated, the only plan to receive Democratic votes.

Obama's last venture into public specificity was his February budget, which proposed accelerating the nation's descent into debt. It was rejected by the Senate 97-0.

Although histrionically impatient with Republicans' refusal to accept certain measures, Obama insists he will "not accept" a debt-ceiling deal that does not increase income taxes. Surely this is the meaning of his July 11 words: "I do not want, and will not accept, a deal in which ... I'm able to keep hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional income that I don't need."

To understand Republican distrust of him, consider, from the many examples of his paltering with the truth, his July 15 news conference, wherein he veered from the subject of the debt ceiling to say "I've got three trade deals ready to go" yet they are "being held up because some folks don't want to provide Trade Adjustment Assistance to people who may be displaced as a consequence of trade." The facts are:

TAA, which has existed since 1962, enjoys bipartisan support. The 2009 stimulus increased it, supposedly temporarily, and it did revert to pre-stimulus levels in February. Now, however, Democrats suddenly insist that TAA's stimulus levels be made permanent.

Obama's wee mendacity about TAA illustrates the large stakes of the debt debate, which is a proxy for an epochal argument about the nature of American governance. Obama's money gusher has driven federal spending from under 20 percent of GDP to almost 25 percent. Democrats consider this the new normal -- until it becomes the base from which they launch their next surge of statism.

This fact refutes those who loftily dismiss the debt-ceiling debate as much ado about not very much. And those who are loftily contemptuous of today's supposedly "dysfunctional" Washington have forgotten that the branches of government are supposed to be jealous rivals.
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Welcome to Jimmy Carter's 2nd term

Jimmy CarterCover of Jimmy CarterThe press is finally coming around to my previous conclusion: Osama is the most dangerous ideologue since Woodrow Wilson, the most unethical crook since Bill Clinton, and, worst of all, the most dangerous incompetent since Jimmy Carter...T

It has taken three decades, but Americans are finally living through Jimmy Carter’s second term.

Now we’ve got Jimmy Jr. barking at us from the White House about eating our peas and ripping off our Band-Aid. He might not even let us have our Social Security checks.

These are just the latest in a long line of nagging lectures. Already, we have been taught how we should sneeze into the crook of our arm. We need to drive less. And we need to caulk up those drafty houses of ours.

What ever happened to the soaring rhetoric and big bold ideas President Obama promised us in that historic election of his?

Is this what he meant by a new kind of politics? If so, no thanks. Oh, and it is not new. Jimmy already dragged us through all this once and we just barely survived it.

One of the most unpleasant things about Mr. Carter was the condescending disdain he could barely disguise for struggling Americans and their irritating malaise.

Increasingly, Jimmy Jr. is having difficulty concealing that very same disdain for us as the political winds around him turn hostile and all of his bright ideas lie fallow as nothing more than socialist hocus-pocus.

But even Mr. Carter never laid bare so baldly and plainly as Mr. Obama did earlier this week his deep-seated contempt for this whole annoying process we call “democracy.”

The problem with reaching a deal to raise the debt ceiling, he explained in a long sermon, is that there is this huge wave of Republicans who won control of the House in the last election by promising not to raise any more taxes and to cut the absurd overspending that has driven this town for decades.

He bemoaned - in public - that these Republicans are more concerned about the “next election” rather than doing “what’s right for the country.” In other words, he is saying the honorable thing would be for these Republicans to ignore the expressed wishes of voters, break their campaign promises and raise taxes. Wow.

As if the whole problem of Washington spending us into oblivion is the fault of stingy taxpayers and stupid voters. And what we really need is Jimmy Jr., who knows what is best for us despite what we may think.

Continuing his lecture, Mr. Obama then complained about America’s “political process, where folks are rewarded for saying irresponsible things to win elections.”

How did this man get past sixth-grade social studies, much less Iowa?

When Mr. Obama finished his sermon about the contemptible Republicans keeping faith with their voters like a bunch of chumps, he then turned to his own intentions - and revealed even more of his contempt for us.

All this talk about “raising revenue” - the deceitful line he uses to describe raising taxes - has been most unhelpful, he said. “I want to be crystal clear,” he said. “Nobody has talked about increasing taxes now. Nobody has talked about increasing taxes next year.”

So when would these tax hikes that he is demanding take effect?

In 2013, well after Mr. Obama must face voters for re-election.

Lucky for us, it appears more and more unlikely every day that we will have to suffer through a third term of Jimmy Carter‘s.
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