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Monthly Archives: August 2009

What We Are Learning About the Era of Obama

August 30th, 2009 - 6:10 pm

Means and Ends in the Age of Obama

One of the stranger things about this eerie first eight months of the Obama administration is how brazenly its supporters have been about the noble ends justifying the disreputable means.

Taxes for Thee

Take taxes. I thought the mantra was that the Bush tax cuts — equal percentages of cuts to all involved, an even greater number of households excused from the tax rolls altogether — were supposed to be cruel and proof of conservative selfishness.

Candidate Obama once in an interview seemed to agree that greater revenue ensued for the federal treasury, but he felt that such benefits were not worth the empowerment of so many to become so wealthy. In other words, higher taxes were good for those who make money — and avoiding or cutting them was unpatriotic and greedy.

We now witness Rep. Charles Rangel, who not only somehow on a congressman’s salary compiled hundreds of thousands in cash in various accounts, but also seems to have skipped out on almost every conceivable tax on such lucre. We know the tired story of Treasury Secretary Geithner, who not only skipped his FICA taxes, but pocketed the cash allowances allotted precisely for them. Whether a Chris Dodd or Tom Daschle, the story is the same — insider perks from low interest mortgages to free limousine service were never reported and never taxed.

There are two ways of making sense of this paradox. One, such liberals assume that their cosmic humanitarianism and brotherly egalitarianism exempt them from following mere mortal laws (e.g., as in “We are so divine on the important stuff that we deserve a pass on  small, insignificant matters”.) And two, in order to enact state planning, and superimpose an overarching government plan onto our own messy agendas, we must bow to a technocracy.

These gifted souls are like Plato’s Guardians —Übermenschen, trained at places like Harvard Law School, with government service at the Fed, years at this or that Cabinet post, or tenure in Congress under their belts, veterans of brief university postings. We are blessed with Geithners, Daschles, Obamas and others, and so can hardly demand they be bothered with minutiae like taxes, or following bureaucratic regulations governing gifts, whether Tony Rezko’s land deals or Friends of Angelo loan perks.

My Grass Roots, Your Astro-turfing

Examine also community organizing. The craft was caricatured by Rudy Giuliani at the Republican Convention as a sort of non-productive, busy-bodying, a dressed-up version of being paid to give out someone else’s money to someone arbitrarily deemed more deserving.

Be that as it may, the Obama mystique was wrapped up within such grassroots organizing and supposedly selfless public service. (Remember Michelle Obama’s referencing of how Barack could have been a cutthroat rich lawyer (I doubt that, since success in corporate law is not easy), but instead chose to go to Chicago to toil in the fields of the poor (alongside Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers)?)

But suddenly we are seeing a much more genuine form of community organizing. The team parties and town halls are not union-bussed in affairs. There are no federally-subsidized ACORN-like printed posters. Most are spontaneous protestors and dissidents, who don’t want to give up their private health care plans or endanger their Medicare privileges.

For this defiance they have been dubbed Neanderthals, mobs, unpatriotic, Nazis, and brown shirts. Community organizing and popular protest has gone from being seen as 1960s romance during the Bush years to sinister 1930s-like agitation in Italy and Germany. But the only thing that has changed is that now the community organizers are the establishment, and they don’t like being community organized. So once again, like raising taxes, we see that protest was always only a means to an ends, not an intrinsically necessary form of popular outrage.

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Obama vs. Obama

August 24th, 2009 - 7:59 am

Actions often have unforeseen consequences. Throughout the campaign and the first few months of the new administration, Barack Obama adopted a number of personas and positions that only now may be coming back to haunt him. Or in the words of the right Reverend Wright the proverbial “chickens are coming home to roost.”

1) The Wars

Obama and the Democrats once understandably figured that the war in Afghanistan was nearly won (between 2002-5 fewer of our soldiers were dying in an entire year there than in a single bloody month in Iraq), while (to quote Harry Reid) Iraq was already “lost.” Obama, like most, not only opposed the surge, but claimed it would be counterproductive.

In contrast, Obama promised that he’d be tough in Afghanistan, pursue enemies hotly into Pakistan, and not take “his eye off the ball” of the theater as did Bush. “Let me at ‘em” was the mood (sort of like the cartoon character who swings furiously and wildly at the air while his larger companion holds him up by the scruff of the neck.)

Remember that in early 2007 when Obama was beginning his campaign, Afghanistan was still thought of as the “good” war—UN approved, mostly quiet with few fatalities (e.g., 59 in all of 2005), and directly linked with the Taliban, 9/11, and Osama bin Laden.

Iraq, in contrast, was the thoroughly bad war—and became even messier as the controversial surge peaked fatalities.  Remember the “General Betray Us” ads?

Iraq was seen as George Bush’s albatross, as the once supportive Democrats (cf. the Democratic pluralities who voted to authorize the war in the October 10-11, 2002 votes) had long ago bailed. A wild-eyed public that polled 79% in favor of the war in May 2003 (despite the daily media blaring that there were no weapons of mass destruction), by 2006 was polling only 35% in favor.  By 2006 and 2008 the opposition to the Iraqi war was Democratic manna—especially as Obama and others in contrast sought national security cover in chest-thumping about Afghanistan. Remember the Obama promise to bring all combat brigades home from Iraq by “March 31, 2008”?

But there were a few problems.

1)   By inauguration, Iraq was already on the road to being saved. This year far more have been killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq; five Americans were lost so far this month in Iraq; 57 in Afghanistan—ten times the losses of the former!

2) the problem with “surging” is now not Bush’s Iraq version which worked, but Obama’s necessary Afghan reinforcement whose efficacy remains to be seen;

3) Obama and the Democrats may have not grasped that security and consensual government in Afghanistan were always the tougher propositions—a country landlocked, with harsh weather, difficult terrain, an illiterate populace, and poor, nuclear Pakistan next door; while Iraq was always the more viable—ports, oil, vital location, easy terrain and access, greater numbers of secular and literate citizenry;

4) Yes, Afghanistan was directly linked to 9/11. But if the ‘war on terror’ was really about radical Islam and its nexus with sponsoring Middle East tyrants and autocracies, then the removal of Saddam would cause in its own right positive ripples in a rather wider region. Iran, for example, was not perennially “empowered” by our removal of Saddam, as the conventional wisdom insisted the last six years. In fact, Ahmadinejad may be now threatened by the idea of a Shiite-majority democracy nearby, one that conducts itself in a fashion that is ipso facto destabilizing to its nearby theocratic cousin and its millions of the unhappy. Iranian popular angst increased after the fostering of Iraqi democracy.

Bottom line? Obama—rightfully so—committed himself to winning a good war in Afghanistan, and now he must accomplish what was a far more challenging proposition than he ever imagined.  His doom-and-gloom assertions about Iraq proved wrong, and now in turn he must oversee what may well turn out to be a George Bush-inspired successful constitutional government in the heart of the ancient caliphate.

It is true that the liberal media will give Obama far more leeway (note how violence in Afghanistan and Iraq are not so much on the front pages as in the Bush years; and note how Hollywood will produce no more movies like Rendition or Valley of Elah about an unpopular war). In addition, the anti-war left—for now—will go easier on kindred Commander-in-Chief Obama. The Democrats in Congress, of course, will become suddenly be pro-war in Afghanistan as they were once anti-Bush on Iraq.  But all that said, again, Afghanistan won’t be easy. Security and a stable Afghan consensual government will mean Obama cannot vote present. As the casualties mount, so will the left-wing base agitate to galvanize public opinion against the war—and the media will make the necessary adjustments.

Conclusion? Obama should have never blustered about our supposedly hopeless situation in Iraq and his own eagerness to escalate in Afghanistan. Now we expect him to reify his campaign rhetoric. But he cannot easily wish to flee Iraq and turn victory into defeat there; nor easily surge in Afghanistan and have that once good war become Obama’s messy own.

2) Race

Obama could have downplayed identity politics, and stayed true to his message of racial irrelevance—despite the temptation of hyping the novelty and mystique of his heritage and of tapping the ever present font of white guilt. He could have run as a Colin Powell/Condoleezza Rice-like figure  who saw race as incidental, never essential to his persona.

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The Strange Case of the Obama Meltdown

August 20th, 2009 - 5:59 am

The Obama Meltdown—Symptoms/Diagnosis/Prognosis

Strange things are happening to the Obama administration and quickly so. His polls are diving and may not stop at 50/50, the most precipitous drop in approval of a first-year President since Bill Clinton in 1993 (cf. Hillary care).

First, here are some of the problems the President faces:

Symptoms and Diagnosis

1)   Health Care. Health-care take overs and socialized medicine have terrified not just the right and conservatives, but the elderly of all persuasions who fear their shaky Medicare funds will be diverted to Obama’s new plans. In short, they believe their care will be rationed and given to all sorts of new recipients. And they fear age will be a basis for meriting treatment; as if the gang banger with a long felony record of mayhem at 22 would be more deserving before a federal health panel than would someone at 90 who scrimped and saved for insurance in case of some future need for a hip replacement (and was still active and productive; cf. great octogenarians from Sophocles to Barzun who did their best work in their late lives).

It was an insane political move to demonize these town-hallers, when streaming video showed the participants scared and angry, but not violent, trying to get answers from smug politicos who either cell phoned away, ridiculed questioners in the manner of Barney Frank, or mocked their interrogators. These were for the most part not Code Pink/Cindy Sheehan type protestors. (And by the way, what happened to Code Pink, given we are still in Iraq and Afghanistan?)

2)   The Spell is Broken. Cap-and-trade, the mega-deficits, the apology tours, and the sleaze of some appointments and congressional grandees (cf. Rangel, Dodd, Murtha, etc.) were stimulants, but not in themselves enough to awaken the somnolent American people from their collective trance. Yet health care was like a shot of adrenaline that jolted the patient out of his slumber. Suddenly hope and change no longer worked like the swinging watch and “you’re getting sleepy” lingo. Voters are feeling they’ve been “had” and were mesmerized into being used for an extremist agenda.

Who made the following decisions? 1) to propose a 1,000 page bill that no one had read, much less could explain?; 2) to ram down the greatest change in the US economy in fifty years by the August recess?; 3) to talk loosely of the “uninsured” without knowing why they were not insured, how much it would cost to insure them, or whether they currently in fact find some sort of care?; 4) to reference Rahm Emanuel’s doctor brother as a source of wisdom? 5) to demonize the health-care industry as greedy?

(NB: Does Obama really believe that illegal aliens do not possess 200-300 dollars a month to buy catastrophic health coverage, when they send on average at least that amount back to Mexico on the assumption the emergency room here is free, for everything from injuries to natal care? Does he believe that a 25-year old does not gamble that his robust health means he prefers his I-pod, DVDs, and nights out to squirreling away cash each month for health insurance? There are flaws in our system that must be corrected, but the notion of conspirators in black hats who plot to prevent health care for the “uninsured” is fallacious.

3)   The Counter-attack is not working. The Obama shotgun has blasted all sorts of magnum loads—town-hall and tea-party critics were un-American, Nazis, tools of the insurance industry, dupes, and Astro-turfers. Now the religious argument is thrown out at the 11th hour: those who doubt neo-socialist care are somehow un-Christian and uncaring. But that tactic evokes Trinity-Church politics, where religious piety rings false and serves political advantage. Did not the Christian Right get demonized for just that avenue of political mobilization? And because Obama assumed messianic pretensions, such a prophet suffers the wage of hypocrisy, given the growing reality that he is, on the presidential scale, rather mean spirited, highly partisan, too sensitive to criticism, and surprisingly ill-informed given the emphasis on his Ivy-League education and the whiz-kids around him (who wrote the error-plagued Cairo speech).

The Therapy

1)   Cool the “this is our moment”, “hope and change” rhetoric. Obama reminds me of what Wellington supposedly said of Napoleon’s Old Guard at Waterloo “They came on in the same old way, and we sent them back in the same old way.” Instead, he should quietly follow the 1995 triangulation model of Bill Clinton/Dick Morris.

Instead of the old sops of welfare reform, school uniforms, balanced budgets, and more police officers on the street (I’m not being entirely cynical here), Obama should concentrate on debt, debt, and more debt. He could freeze federal spending at 2% per annum, and get into the black in two-three years, given his income tax hikes. He could pacify the Left with, “I’d love to pursue our socialist agenda, but we are going broke and cannot right now.”

Instead of cap-and-trade, he could allot a few feminist, green and gay ambassadorships that would not impact the federal treasury. Given the sudden silence on Iraq, the Left has demonstrated that their furor was always about power lost and hatred for George Bush in the White House, never much about principles or convictions. That Obama is in the White House is more important to most former critics of Bush than anything he does or says.

2)   Return to the “no more blue/red state” bipartisan tropes. Consider Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barney Frank as the real challenges, since the animosity that they engender can do far more damage to Barack Obama than Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and all of the Fox News cast put together. Voters are more comfortable with Blue Dogs than Barbara Boxer. Soon the tea-party anger is going to spill over and result in Boxer, Reid, etc. having reelection nightmares.

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Our Ongoing Catharsis

August 15th, 2009 - 8:23 am

Presidential Popularity

After just eight months, the President is at a 50/50 cross-roads in the polls. The once hope-and-change exuberance has dissipated. Such unpopularity is hardly new; what is novel is the rapidity in which a 70%+ approval rating has plummeted to 50%.

What’s Next?

The result is that Obama is increasingly at the mercy of events, rather than directing them himself. If the economy rebounds quickly, if his supporters vastly water down his cap-and-trade and health care initiatives and call such nuancing success, if energy prices stay depressed, if his administration stops the racial hectoring, if Michelle, Biden, and others are advised to smile rather than to speak, then Obama may, like Clinton in 1995, recover.

But if a recovery morphs into Carter-like stagflation with high unemployment, interest, and inflation, coupled with low growth, if Obama insists on a blood-on-the-floor flight for socialized medicine and radical energy taxes, if we get more “cowards” and “stupidly” editorializing, if Michelle gets angry and emerges with more “this is a downright mean country” sermonizing, if Biden starts talking his astrology, then we could witness a Carter or Bush meltdown in the polls—but in year one rather than four or five.

What Happened?

The public was mad at Bush for deficit spending, and yet Obama baited-and-switched and gave them much more of it. Americans perhaps were tired of “smoke ‘em out” and “bring it on” machismo, and then got off-the-teleprompter incoherence of the ‘inflate your tires’ type. Voters wanted Martin Luther King, Jr., and are hearing more an Al Sharpton. Wall Street greed continues, but the remedy for its excess instead falls on our family doctor, real estate broker, and accountant, and all the others who are demonized for making over $250,000 a year. Some believed Nancy Pelosi & Co. were genuine supporters of protest, and critics of government privilege—and only now learned that it was only liberal protest and Republican privilege she and her cohort praised and slurred. We wanted kinder, gentler servants, and instead got a Hillary snapping and gnashing in the Congo, Timothy Geithner swearing in profanity-laced diatribes at bank regulators, and Biden’s lunacy.

Quiet Before the Storm?

The more I talk to Americans, the more they seem to me increasingly apprehensive about the growing deficits. They are exasperated that the talk of all these new taxes won’t translate into balanced budgets, but into gargantuan new debts. More and more get the impression that the more we are to pay for taxes and the more entitlements are to expand, the more both are owed rather than appreciated. The more we say we are sorry abroad, the more a Chavez, Kim Jong Il, or Ahmadinejad may well confuse contrition for timidity and so try to readjust the regional order—as a warm-up for something really serious from Russia or China.

A Necessary Catharsis

If one reads the early plays of Aristophanes, Aristotle’s Politics, or later political observers like Tocqueville, then one appreciates that in a democracy there is always a certain tendency for ochlocracy. Popular demagoguery ensures that the better off are pilloried, and the public votes itself largess that it simply does not have. Indeed, in the ancient world, it is largely accepted that while democracy in name means power of the people in the sense of majority rule, it so often translates into the power of the poorer classes.

The corrective is for a conservative minority to win over a majority by appeals to reason and moderation, to stifle public appetites, to honor traditional values, to remind us all of the tragic limitations inherent in the human experience.

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On Becoming Europe

August 12th, 2009 - 12:28 pm

Thoughts of Our European Future to Come

After concluding another 16 days in Europe. I am again reminded how different their form of socialism  is, and yet how closely it resembles the model that Obama seeks for America. The vast majority of citizens lives in apartments, even in smaller towns and villages. Cars are tiny. Prices are higher than in the states; income is lower (The government taxes you to pay for things like “free” college, so you won’t have much to spend on antisocial things like your Wal-Mart plastic Christmas Tree or your second K-Mart plasma TV.)

Mass transit is frequent and cheap,  but often crowded and occasionally unpleasant. The stifled desire to acquire something—large house, car, deposit account—is of course not quite destroyed by socialism, but rather is channeled into a sort of cynicism and anger, often leading to a hedonism of few children, late and long meals, and disco hours until the early morning. The number of Gucci like stores selling overpriced label junk like 200 Euro eye-glass frames and 1000 Euro leather bags to socialists is quite amazing.

A Party for Everything

Multiple political parties flourish, all with passionate single agenda constituents. Graffiti is not gang related, but mostly political and nonsensical. Media is divided by politics, a leftwing paper, a rightwing magazine. Unions control almost all government services. And yet class is firmly entrenched and aristocratic snobbery more pronounced. (We already see that strange symbiosis between socialism for everyone else, capitalism for a few, whether in Michelle’s clothes, the Obama’s mansion, the Kerry fortune, the Edwards compound, the Gore appurtenances, the Clinton speaking cash cow, and too many others to list).

Among upper-class Greeks, one is constantly reminded that their grandfather, their cousin, or mother-in-law was this minister once, or that writer years ago, or today a famous diplomat—anything to focus one’s attention beyond the possession of the normal flat in the normal apartment building and the normal tiny Fiat and the normal public education.

Ministries to be Milked

When I talk to well-off Italians and Greeks who have substantial homes by the sea not available to most others, one of three realities leak out: one, they have family money made decades ago by their ancestors that includes ancestral estates permissible before the period of supposed mandated equality of result. In other words, theirs got theirs and then helped make laws so no one else could.

Or, two, people simply cheat on taxes all the time. If you buy something, the offer comes to pay in cash. A Greek explained to me his government job is his official tax-paying day job; the expertise necessary for it is what he farms out at night and on weekends for cash that goes for a second home, a larger car, a vacation abroad.

Egalitarian Vampires

Or, three, the technocrats who run  these vast welfare states are not only well paid, but more importantly are able to garner cars, travel, and plush apartments as tax-free job related perks (cf. the current scandal in London). If being a “venture capitalist” is what wannabe Harvard kids in their 20s sought in the 1990s, being a bigwig Minister, with neo-classical office, state Mercedes, and official residence is the perennial European equivalent. This is a continent of Tom Daschles, who win by being exempt from the burden of government that they subject on others, and win again by having the contacts to sort out government contracts to crony-businesses.

My point? The more Europe professes to be egalitarian, the more cynical and conniving the people have become—almost as if the human craving for one’s own property and to make one one’s destiny cannot be denied by the state, but by needs will be channeled into what the state mandates as anti-social for most, but quietly a perk for a few.

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Sailing to Byzantium

August 8th, 2009 - 5:19 am

 

Rhodes

 

Millions of Euros have transformed Rhodes into a sort of Frankish and Venetian Disneyland. The medieval city has been completely rebuilt, or almost rebuilt—turrets, walls, streets, arches, courtyards—into a fascinating citadel as it might have appeared around 1500 or so. I visited in 1973, 1974, and 1988, and it has since invested more money in the last twenty years into infrastructure than during the prior 100. But then the story of Greece itself the last thirty years is the gargantuan influx of Euro money, both before and after the Olympics, that make it unrecognizable from my first visit at 20 in September 1973—an awful year of war in the Middle East, furor over American resupply of Israel,  of oil embargos, a preliminary coup that removed George Papadopoulos, brought in the more sinister Ioannides, and the shoot-out at the Polytechnion.

 

One does not see medieval homesteads in the interior anywhere in Greece as was common during the classical period. Indeed Rhodes of the Middle Ages—tons of stone ramparts guarding a stone central fortress with crowded brick and stone homes within—was not the Rhodes of 400 B.C. with plentiful small poleis and surrounding homestead farms.

 

Piracy and Ottomanism meant that enemy galleys could appear on the horizon without warning and land within hours to rape, murder, kidnap, and pillage. The pattern of settlement of  Rhodes is a testament to that fact. Houses are built fortress-like. Streets are labyrinths, and secondary lines of defense, as trapped invaders might be pelted from top stories of shuttered homes, citizens safe behind massive doors, or at least safe enough to jump above across narrow pathway-like streets or to escape through subterranean tunnels.

 

Throughout the Mediterranean antiquities of the 14th-18th centuries, the story is the same: fears of security, inadequate defense, and constant anxiety trump the ease and economy of living among the fields. Commuting peasants attached to lords who provide security for exploitation, not yeomen homestead farmers of the classical past, are more characteristic of the countryside

 

One way of learning history without texts is simply to wander the ancient countryside and observe: when there are scattered towns and homesteads, life is good; when not, life is tenuous and development retarded. Standing on the ramparts of Rhodes, I could not think of a scarier thing than hearing a shout from a watchman that seaborne raiders have appeared out of nowhere and the gates were closing to prevent catastrophe.  We in the United States have not seen such insecurity since the Civil War and especially the bloody killing in Kansas and Missouri, other than a few range wars in the late nineteenth-century West. But history is not always progressive, and without good government, national unity, and viable defense, the world returns to the status of the 15th-century Aegean. Almost every island out here has an impressive Frankish fort, beefed up by the Venetians—and ultimately sacked by the Turks.

 

Bodrum

 

I first visited Halicarnassus—birthplace of Herodotus, home of the Mausoleum, and capital of Artemisia’s Carian kingdom—over 35 years ago. It has metamorphosized from a seedy, sleepy sort of Bohemian seaside port into a cruise ship  hot spot, with rebuilt Frankish castle, touristy harbor, scores of impressive wood yachts, and an inviting market not that much different from those on the Greek islands.

 

There is not much more than a stone or two left from the Mausoleum (the least visited of the 7 ancient wonders of the world, I think, are the Babylon hanging gardens and Mausolus’s tomb). The ancient theater is still used, but gaudy and without the dignity of the white simplicity of Epidauros. The harbor has great natural beauty. I spent the afternoon at a coffee bar and talked to a Turkish intellectual, furious that Greeks come easily ashore as EU cash-laden visitors, while Turks only with difficulty can stay more than a day on the Greek islands. I left the conversation when he got into the great Aegean narrative: that Greek islands, like Rhodes, Samos, Lesbos, and Chios, are intrinsically and properly Turkish—apparently he never heard of ancient Ionia. We had started out well enough, talking about olives and grapes, and the scarcity of water; politics ended all that.

 

Mykonos

 

I confess I have never liked Mykonos. Like most classics and archaeological snob students, I avoided it except as transit to uninhabited Delos. But aside from the Euro-sensualists who swarm the island, its interior has natural beauty and fine beaches, as well as good seaside restaurants. I first visited there 36 years ago, and that old divide between gawking traditional native residents and polymorphously perverse European party-goers is now gone. Indeed, the Greek cosmopolitans are almost indistinguishable from the other visitors. I usually preferred to visit Paros or Naxos, or even eerie tourist- and antiquities-free Syros. Swam alongside a snorkeler who speared four big octopuses, and he spoke English as poorly as I do modern Greek now.

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Prairie-Fire Anger

August 5th, 2009 - 8:15 am

Why Are People in Revolt?

The approval ratings on nearly every one of the President’s key policy initiatives—cap-and-trade, health care overhaul, government take over of industry and finance, deficit spending, stimulus—are already less than half of polled voters. Obama’s own popularity has fallen dramatically and hovers near fifty percent. A number of well-publicized town meetings have erupted in shouting, as administration and congressional representatives try, often in condescending fashion, to explain the Obama agenda. The Republicans—written off just a few weeks ago as an obsolete party headed for oblivion—are now often polling higher in generic surveys than are Democrats.

Why the sudden uproar?

Bait-and-Switch

There is a growing sense of a “we’ve been had”, bait-and-switch. Millions of moderate Republicans, independents, and conservative Democrats—apparently angry at Bush for Iraq and big deficits, unimpressed by the McCain campaign, intrigued by the revolutionary idea of electing an African-American president—voted for Obama on the assumption that he was sincere about ending red state/blue state animosity. They took him at his word that he was going to end out of control federal spending. They trusted that he had real plans to get us out of the economic doldrums, and that he was not a radical tax-and-spend liberal of the old sort.

Instead, within days Obama set out plans that would triple the annual deficit, and intends to borrow at a record pace that will double the aggregate debt in just eight years.

He not only took over much of the auto- and financial industries, but also did so in a way that privileged unions, politically-correct creditors, and those insider cronies who favor administration initiatives. On matters racial, his administration is shrill and retrograde, not forward-looking. It insists on emphasizing the tired old identify politics that favor a particular sort of racial elite that claims advantage by citing past collective victimization or piggy-backs for advantage on the plight of the minority underclass.

 In other words, the Obama swing voter thought he was getting a 21st-century version of pragmatic, triangulating Bill Clinton—and instead got something to the left of 1970s Jimmy Carter.

 

Those Who Receive and Those Who Dole Out

There is, of course, a growing fear of government—but a new sort of anxiety that transcends the traditional skepticism of statism. Few Americans younger than 60 can recall the magnitude of the current government take-over of the economy that may reach 40-45% of GDP. Evocation of “socialism” is still considered inflammatory by the Left, but it is now simply an empirical term, not a slur, given that America’s tax codes and entitlement spending may look like the  social landscape in France or Scandinavia in short order.

Apprehensive voters dread turning their hard-won and paid-for private health care plans into something like the emergency room on Saturday night, where the care reflects the chaos. The new anti-Obamians do not want industry run like the Department of Motor Vehicles, where most time and money are invested mostly in those  who do not follow the rules like registering their cars or getting a driver’s license. And it is not just the waste, inefficiency, and lack of accountability inherent in government-run enterprises that bother the growing cadre of angry voters.

There is, again, a mounting anxiety that the current federal expansion is politically-driven in rather radical ways—an effort to create a permanent new constituency of millions who either receive expanded federal largess or are gleefully employed in doling it out. The zealotry of expansive bureaucracy and dependency instills fears, rational or not, of a radicalized huge federal work force, a sort of national version of Acorn to the nth degree that in pack-like fashion is mobilized to target potential naysayers.

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No Free Lunch

August 2nd, 2009 - 8:18 am

The Piper Must Be Paid

I think the natural tendency of the US economy to rebound from recession, coupled with the enormous inflationary forces of borrowing another $2 trillion, will result in some sort of a brief economic recovery. But almost immediately we will be hit with a number of consequences that are now rarely voiced. Likewise the new ‘reset’ button foreign policy has a similar tab to come due. What to watch for the next year:

Energy. As the global recovery begins, oil prices will again climb, maybe even skyrocket. Will Obama continue his neglect of nuclear power, clean coal, and natural gas and oil exploration, or will he revert to his campaign expediency, and suddenly call for all such sources to be tapped? Wind and solar sound fine in campaign mode, and during a recession, but should gas hit nearly $5 a gallon again, talk of “green power” most certainly will not be enough. Sadly, this is precisely the time when government should be giving incentives to develop domestic energy of every sort, from nuclear to natural gas.

Taxes. Talking about new taxes in 2009 and paying them in 2010/11 are two quite different things.

Not long ago I tried to explain to an Obama supporter that he belonged to the targeted 5%, who, as an elite taxpayer, had “made out  like a bandit under Bush”, was obligated to “spread the wealth around” a bit, and should prove his patriotism by paying more. But it was a hopeless task: most well-off Obama supporters simply do not believe that their marginal tax rates are going up, that they may have to pay a health care surcharge, that the income caps of the FICA payroll tax will come off, subjecting much of their income to steep social security taxes, and that their state income tax in California is now over 10%.

In other words, a number of professionals in my state do not yet grasp that their own icon has them in the cross-hairs, and that within 2 years they will be paying perhaps 65% of their gross income to government—AND—receive no particular thanks by the rest of the population for their contribution, see no reduction in the federal deficit for the new bite out of their income, and probably be in line for future tax increases given their “wealthy” status.

So it will be quite interesting to see how the Obama elites react when they soon discover that they will have about 30-40% of their income to operate on. It is easy to talk about “higher taxes”, but so far all this is mere table chat. Wait until the real bite shows up in smaller monthly checks or larger quarterly estimates.

Interest. Interest rates to curb inflation will have to go up. But the problem is that we are going to be financing a new $2 trillion per annum deficit, on top of an expanding $11 trillion debt. It is relatively easy to do that now in times of crisis and recession by paying the Chinese or Japanese or U.S. bond holders here in the states a mere 1-2% on their treasury holdings, but what happens in recovery when we have to pay 4-5% or even 7-8% on treasury-issued debt to attract buyers?

In other words, in the good times to come we will see enormous strains on the annual budget to pay out the sort of interest needed to attract new borrowers. My larger point is that the current mega-borrowing is scarcely sustainable in a period of low energy and low interest rates, but will become intolerable when prices and interest rates skyrocket. Stocks will plummet once capital diverts to T-bill and passbook holdings that pay well over 5%. Tragically, as we come out of the recession, this was the time to be prudent, balance the budget, and pay down debt at low interest before it climbs, rather than to borrow for cap-and-trade, new education entitlements, and nationalized health care.

Race. Some of us—who read literally and carefully Dreams from My Father, and its quite disturbing declarations about race—were worried about Obama’s racial obsessions. Rev. Wright and Father Pfleger only accentuated that concern. Add in the Pennsylvania slurs, Michelle’s various rantings, “typical white person”, Eric Holder’s “cowards”, and the latest “stupidly”, and I think we see that one cannot so easily be deprogrammed from 20 years of Trinity indoctrination. The point is, however, that ever so slowly the public is starting to become wary (note the reaction in the polls to Gates-gate), that their post-racial President is, in fact, rather angry and, more importantly, for most of his life has benefited by aligning himself with those forces of racial anger.

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