The usually astute Mickey Kaus misses the mark with his comment about Robert Reich jumping the Obama ship on health care:
If Obama had focused on the economy, what measures, exactly, could he have taken to avoid a midterm massacre? A larger stimulus? Obama got as big a stimulus as he could last spring, no?
Yes, it was (I’d like to think) as large a one as he could have gotten. In fact, it was much too large, given how wasteful, economically ignorant, and larded with goodies for Democrat constituencies it was. But certainly there were things that could have been done which would have been much more stimulating. And in fact there were things that could have been done even before he became president.
The most straightforward thing would have been a payroll tax holiday. It might have added even more to the deficit this year than the porkulus, but it would have had the benefit of actually encouraging businesses — particularly small businesses — to retain and hire people. He could also have promised to keep in place the Bush tax rate cuts, due to expire next year, providing more confidence in the future of the economy. He could have let his campaign promises about nationalizing health care and dramatically raising the costs of energy with cap ‘n’ tax expire, as all of his statements and promises eventually do.
But something he could have done — that would have cost nothing at all — would have been to not scare the bejesus out of business in the first place during his campaign.
Obama talked of increasing capital gains taxes for reasons of “fairness,” even if it actually hurt government revenue. He talked of “spreading the wealth around.” He gave soaring speeches exalting the glory of the state and public service, while the contributions of business and capitalism were ignored. He treated “profit” like a four-letter word and promised to “raise taxes on the rich.” He made economically insane and historically ignorant arguments blaming the meltdown of the financial system on “capitalists” and “deregulation.”
Obama persuaded many small business people to pull in their horns and make plans to keep a low profile (including laying people off) in order to avoid the wealth confiscation of the populist, socialist, economic storm they saw coming with his election.
Could he have actually done all these things? Well, with regard to his poisonous campaign, does anyone think that such rhetoric was necessary for him to win? Were Democrats not going to vote for him just because he wasn’t spouting enough egalitarian rhetoric? The public was so fed up with Republicans, and McCain ran such a terrible campaign, that Obama was going to win no matter what.
Though he might have caused trouble with his own party, Obama could have certainly forged a coalition of Republicans and moderate Democrats were he really the post-partisan, reach-across-the-aisle lightworker that we were promised in the campaign — a promise belied by his actual record in the Senate. It’s called triangulation, and Bill Clinton learned post-1994 that one could not only succeed politically with it, but that it could deliver good results for the country as well (at least until the bubble popped in 2000).
The only problem with it is that Barack Obama is incapable of doing anything so smart, either as a campaigner or a president. Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama is a committed ideologue — a man raised by Marxists and mentored as a youth by a communist, who sought out similar types in college by his own admission in the autobiography he may or may not have actually written himself. He’s a man who ran on the ticket of an avowedly socialist party in the 1990s. He’s a man who sat in the pew of a racist, anti-Semitic, America-hating demagogue for two decades with no objection, until he discovered that it was becoming inconvenient to his political goals. He’s a man who has willfully marinated his entire life in an ugly stew of socialism, racialism, victimology, class warfare, and other “progressive” tropes fashionable in academia and elite America but abhorrent to many of the rest of us.
So it should be no surprise that Obama has no sensible solutions for stimulating the economy, and will brook none. He is no more capable of stimulating an economy than was Mao Tse-tung, the hero of one of his close advisers. And for exactly the same reasons.
A commenter at my blog a few months ago made an interesting point. Clearly the people currently holding the reins of power believe that their policies comport the most with their political goals. But it’s not at all clear that growing the economy — or at least the productive, non-governmental part of it — is one of those goals.
Imagine that our elected representatives had known in January that 2010 would not be merely an election, but a trial of sorts. If the true, undoctored unemployment rate were below about six percent, they would keep their jobs. If it were above it, they would lose their heads. As Dr. Johnson said, nothing so concentrates the mind as the knowledge that one will be hanged in the morning.
Assuming that they are not as stupid as they act, what do you suppose their policies might have been? I think they’d be cutting tax rates as though their lives depended on it.