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Rear Window

November 13th, 2013 - 1:55 pm

When are the seven years of lean due? Science cannot tell us, since it cannot foretell the future as yet, which is why we have politicians. Politicians know everything. Take Barack Obama. Rich Lowry cites Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, authors of Game Change and the sequel about 2012, Double Down, who describe Barack Obama’s struggle to conceal his own certitudes during the 2012 campaign.

In the fall of 2011, they recount, “All too often, Obama felt as if he were driving with his foot on the brake.”

In a strategy meeting with his political advisers, Obama brought up climate change as an example of his undue caution. According to Halperin and Heilemann, the president said: “Maybe I should just come out and say what I really feel about this. Maybe I should just go out and say what I think about everything.”…

At that session, he brought to the Roosevelt Room a stack of pages from a yellow legal pad on which he had scrawled his more heartfelt initiatives.

What were they? Climate change. “We’re never gonna outdrill the other guys,” he said. “We gotta take some risks on this issue.”

Immigration reform. His Latino allies were right that he had been too timid.

Poverty. He needed to do more.

Peace between “Israel and Palestine.” He had let politics get in the way of working toward a settlement.

Closing Gitmo. Again, he hadn’t tried hard enough. “No one is gonna persuade me that we should run a penal colony in perpetuity in America,” he said.

Gay marriage. He didn’t want to keep dissembling about his real position.

He wanted to take his foot off the brake; wanted to go all out. Because he knew with preternatural assurance what lay head. No need to fumble along with the rear-view mirror.

However his campaign advisers eventually persuaded him to … misspeak. The net result were the sudden surprises Obama has become famous for. It is the contrast between Barack Obama the mortal and Obama the visionary. He ran by misrepresenting his position on policies that a critical percentage of voters disagreed with because they would not go along. But once in power he switched to his inner certainties. Because he knew what was right and could now take his foot off the brake.

The most famous example was his pledge that “you can keep your health care. Period. You can keep your doctor. Period.” Neither of these was true. One could say that he lied. Period.

But that would be to miss the bigger point. Obama didn’t lie. He discarded his public uncertainty for his inner certitude. He threw away a great deal of information derived from the public’s fear of future risks because he knew they were unfounded. So great was his prescience that, rather than building up a reserve, as one does facing uncertainty, Obama instead built up a deficit. He bet the farm because he had a sure thing. The national debt jumped from $10 trillion to $17 trillion in the time since he took office. Someone more uncertain would have tried to build up a surplus instead.

That was, after all, Joseph’s advice:

Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.

Today we are fortunate enough to be led by a person who knows exactly when the seven fat cows are coming out of the river. Exactly how the weather works. There’s no need to save. No need to worry that we are making climate worse rather than better by a government program. We can spend the stash. The difficulty for the visionary is what to do when his gamble doesn’t come off. Yesterday Amy Goldstein, Juliet Eilperin and Lena H. Sun at the Washington Post concluded that “software problems with the federal online health insurance marketplace, especially in handling high volumes, are proving so stubborn that the system is unlikely to work fully by the end of the month as the White House has promised, according to an official with knowledge of the project.” Statistics released by the administration say that only 27,000 people enrolled through his $600 million website. In return, almost 40 times that number have lost their health coverage in California alone.

But hold on, ye of little faith. It will of course work in the end because it’s got to work. Those who ask “what is Plan B?” should realize there is no Plan B. There is no Plan B because Plan A is so sure-fire that the only option for the administration is to keep doubling down until Plan A works. That is the attitude of those able to see through the blacked-out windshield. As for the rest of us, there is only the trail of wreckage in the rear-view mirror.

But maybe it’s not good to be too certain, as history sometimes reminds us.


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