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Works and Days

Cracks in the Facade

May 14th, 2009 - 8:33 am

Fissures in the Obama Totem

Oh, I know that President Obama’s approval ratings are still around 62%. But I also remember that George Bush’s at the end of 2001 got even higher — and stayed at or above 60% through most of 2002, explaining why he increased his congressional majority in the midterm elections.

Nevertheless, I think we are beginning — after less than four months — to see fissures in Obama’s Pentelic statuary. And the cracks will widen, because in about six areas he has taken on human nature itself, age-old logic, and common sense-opponents that even a Harvard Law degree and Chicago organizing are no match for.

1) The Rule of Law. We are on dangerous ground here with the reordering of the bankruptcy statutes with Chrysler and the UAW; with the strong-arming of stimulus money for California predicated on the protection of unions; with the serial disdain for paying taxes on the part of Geithner, Solis, Daschle and others; and with the selective release of CIA memos, to denigrate those out of office as veritable torturers (they should reread the transcript of Eric Holder’s 2002 CNN interview with Paula Zahn in which he grandly denies that the Gitmo detainees have any recourse to the Geneva Convention accords and can be held there for as long as we think the war lasts). What separates the U.S. from Mexico, Cuba, or Haiti is the rule of law, the protection of capital and property, the evenhanded treatment of investment, and the faith in a fair media to uncover abuse. I think that is now all in question, as the Utopian ends justify the tawdry means.

2) Energy. We are finding more natural gas than ever. There are billions of barrels of U.S. oil in Alaska, offshore, and in shale. Yet rigs sit idle and government leases are constricting rather than expanding — and for reasons other than the economy. Logic dictated a simple course: expand exploration, increase production, use the revenue to pay down the deficit, and, along with conservation, ready ourselves for the next round of inflationary energy hikes, petro politics, and Middle East petro-bribery by transitioning to alternate energies. In other words, the rare carbon bounty of the U.S. was vital in providing a window of survival, until technology solves wind, solar, and bio-fuel by making them more competitive and plentiful.

No to all that common sense. Instead, Obama is ignoring the potential of coal, nuclear, gas, and oil, intent on cap-and-trade, and pie-in-the-sky present-day Gore-ish wind and solar. The result will be that our energy bills will skyrocket. Our vulnerability will increase. Our overt enemies will gain leverage, and covert ones will keep using coal and nuclear for economic advantage. This is a disastrous energy policy and apparently has been outsourced to the Al Gore cadres. We have a rendezvous with real trouble when the global economy rebounds and  demands more oil and gas. Al Gore will keep his yacht, jet on private planes, and tinker with his various contraptions at his estate; the rest of us will be in gas lines.

3) Debt. Obama has somehow already used the tax last resort. That is, his figures assume taking off FICA caps, watching the states increase their own tax rates, upping the federal rate to 40%, curbing deductions, and effectively increasing the total state and federal bite to above 65% on top incomes.

Fine. But the deficits still go up, adding an aggregate $8-9 more trillion to the debt. The magnitude of borrowing is so staggering that there is almost no conceivable way that we can ever balance the budget without simply confiscating incomes in toto, or taxing our very sneezes. This will blow up in the administration’s face as well. The taxes will discourage and dishearten entrepreneurship as the spending increases unproductive sectors of the now federalized economy, as in turn a larger fossilized constituency demands ever more entitlement and more taxes for “them.”

I do not know what is worse, the mega-interest to come on the debt; the stifling of economic initiative and the rise of barter, off the books income, tax avoidance, or simple slowdowns; or the creation of vast new dependent classes who vote in exchange for entitlement.

We have a rendezvous with hyperinflation, or perhaps stagflation, in that all at once we will see high interest, high inflation, low growth, and nagging unemployment as we finagle ways to service a $15 to 20 trillion debt. Expect not just high taxes, but higher Social Security retirement ages, means-testing, higher FICA taxes, rationed Medicare, and still all that will not be enough…

4) Security. Very schizophrenic. WE keep FISA, Patriot Act, rendition, military tribunals (Gitmo for now?), Predator attacks, Iraq and Afghanistan, while we trash their Bush origins, apologize abroad, and try to out  CIA memos to embarrass the country between 2001-8.

At some point, Putin, Ahmadinejad, Chavez, Kim Song Il, Assad, and others will conclude that Obama is either not serious or confused — and therefore ready to be tested. Right now hostility towards the U.S. garners attention and apology; loyalty and alliance win neglect and complacence: better to be an enemy than a friend of America. If we get hit again at home,  then the Obama administration is effectively over as a successful governing experiment. If we are tested abroad, Obama will almost have to overreact to restore squandered deterrence. Not good. For 24 months Obama  ignited the left to slur the Bush protocols as krypto-fascism, then found (1) they worked, (2) they were not fascist at all, (3) and now he cannot muzzle the left wing multi-headed Cerberus he unleashed.

5). Civil Discord. In just three months Obama has caused more disunity than most presidents in recent memory. Why and how? He has chosen to demonize as greedy (cf. the Super bowl quips, the “speculators” jab, the “fair share” and “spread the wealth” slips, etc.) capitalists en masse. Why laugh as Ms. Sykes wished for Limbaugh to die of kidney failure, which set a new low for presidential uncouthness. He treats the media with contempt as all earls do with obsequious court jesters. There is a mood of ‘them/us’ and ‘time is running out’, as the Obama administration used the panic over the autumn 2008 financial meltdown to steamroll through a statist, postmodern economic and social agenda before the people woke up. They embrace the term “100 days”; do they realize its genesis is 1815 and Napoleon’s return from Elba? (they should: it ended at Waterloo). The cynicism is now such that anytime Obama offers a grand assurance (most ethical administration, no interest in government take-overs of autos and finance, unwavering support of Israel, no desire to look backward at the Bush administration, etc.), in Pavlovian fashion we expect the very opposite to follow.

6). Race relations. Here I am worried. Far from bringing us together, I think Obama’s serial emphasis on race may achieve the unintended opposite of polarization. He should have learned in the campaign (Rev. Wright, Trinity Church, typical white person, clingers, call for reparations, his grandmother — the purported prejudicial stereotyper, etc.), the perils of seeing the world through skin color. Yet to establish his own diplomatic fides abroad, he immediately evokes race at the South American summit. His interview with al Arabiya highlights his race and family’s religion. Race appears in presidential jokes. He distances himself from America prior to his coming of age.

Stranger still, Obama’s heritage is unlike that of a Clarence Thomas, Tom Sowell, or Bill Cosby, who all knew real prejudice in 1950s America. He matured at a different time, was of African, rather than African-American, heritage, went from prep school to Occidental without the sting of experiencing the underbelly of American working class life, and yet has showcased (here I refer to his book Dreams From My Father) racial difference and knows its emphasis is a proven route to professional success. Again, there is too much disingenuousness for such racial identification to turn out well.

Missed opportunity? Obama could have had a one-time stimulus, then vowed to balance the budget. He might have praised wind and solar as he asked the carbon industry to ‘get us through.’ He could have politely disagreed with Bush, but framing differences in the tragic notion of no good choices. He might have cooled the overseas apologies, savvy that other nations have more to apologize for than his own. Obama should have established zero-tolerance for tax avoidance at a time of record tax increases. He could have remonstrated with Wall Street, and sought to rein in excess without Europeanizing the financial sector. He could have proactively reformed entitlements with bipartisan support, rather than, as will happen, drastically address them in the 11th hour. But then to do all that would be to assume he never went to Trinity Church, knew no Rev. Wright, Ayers, Khalidi, etc., did not run mysterious campaigns that eliminated opponents before the elections, was not the most partisan Senator in Congress, and avoided rather crude social and racial stereotyping while campaigning. Most who read this will not agree, given the mesmerizing effect of the Obama charisma. But in time, unless there are radical changes, I think the nation will come to learn that such talent was not put in service to our collective welfare.

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