Obama disappoints on the budget
David Brooks is not pleased with the president. Barack Obama was the candidate -- so philosophical, reasoned and tidy -- for whom he cheered strenuously and for whose presidency Brooks has often served as a mouthpiece (thanks to excessive attention heaped upon him by the White House), putting the president's decisions in the best possible light. But Obama has never lived up to the promise Brooks saw in him. Obama's "historic achievement" -- ObamaCare --was not something Brooks could stomach.
And it is the same story on the president's budget proposal. Brooks writes:
Two explanations are commonly offered to explain why the White House decided to kick the can down the road. Some analysts say the Democrats are trying for a repeat of 1995: Do nothing on the deficit; goad the Republicans into announcing entitlement cutbacks and then savage them on the campaign trail for cutting off granny.
I don't believe this is in the president's head. It would be morally reprehensible to bankrupt the nation for the sake of a campaign theme. Obama is not that sort of person.
Yes, that would be like making up tales about the Chamber of Commerce's "foreign money" buying an election, or assuring the country that extending coverage to tens of millions of Americans would save money, or telling a bald-faced lie that expenditures would no longer exceed revenue at some point under a budget that doesn't count borrowing to pay the debt as adding to the debt. What sort of person would practice that kind of old school politics?
Brooks doesn't like to think Obama is up to no good, so he prefers this explanation:
Be patient, the president argued at his press conference this week. If I lead from the front my proposal will get stymied in the partisan circus. Better to lead from the back and have negotiations in private with Republican leaders. Then when the time is ripe, we'll cut a deal outside the glare of the scream machine.
The president and his aides may really believe in this strategy, but it is wrong. This is not like fixing Social Security in the early 1980s. The current debt problem is of an entirely different scale. It requires a rewrite of the social contract, a new way to think about how the government pays for social insurance.
That explanation is based on the premise that the "president has enormous faith in getting smart people around the table and initiating technocratic reform." Unfortunately, to the extent that is true, Obama tends to come up with reforms, like ObamaCare, that are so flawed that not even Brooks can support them.
But Brooks is still optimistic. "While Obama asked for patience yet again, Eric Cantor announced that Republicans will put entitlements on the table. It may be politically risky, but it looks more like leadership to me."
Well, maybe fluency in the philosophy of Reinhold Niebuhr isn't a skill relevant to the presidency. When the chips are down -- a terrorist bombing, foreign revolutions or a fiscal crisis -- sound judgment, decisiveness and moral clarity are what count. We should keep that in mind in 2012.
| February 18, 2011; 10:20 AM ET
Categories: President Obama
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