Ed Driscoll

The 44th President and his Multiple Catch-22s

As the economy enters into yet another “unexpected!” slump, Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise blog writes, “So Much for a V-shaped U.S. Economic Recovery:”

This morning’s dismal U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) growth numbers should give Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke pause about the prospects for the U.S. economic outlook. Despite the fact that the U.S. economy is still recovering from its worst postwar economic recession, and that it has been on steroids of fiscal stimulus and quantitative easing, all that the U.S. economy could do in the first quarter of 2011 was to muster 1.75 percent GDP growth. Such anemic economic growth offers little prospect that U.S. unemployment will decline from its current level of almost 9 percent anytime soon.Yesterday, ever optimistic, Bernanke suggested that while the economy had hit a soft patch it would recover in the remainder of the year to around 3 percent growth. His reassuring words would have had more credence had he not given similar assurances that the economy was gaining traction in early 2010, only to have found  himself forced to introduce a second round of quantitative easing towards the middle of that year to boost a flagging economy.

Bernanke’s current optimism about the prospects for a pickup in U.S. economic growth are all the more surprising given the very strong headwinds that the U.S. economy now faces. Not only are sky-high gasoline prices sapping consumer purchasing power, but housing prices are again declining under the weight of the foreclosure crisis at the same time that the states are engaged in another round of spending cuts. It would seem to be only a matter of time before Bernanke introduces us to a third round of quantitative easing.

And speaking of sky-high energy prices, Investor’s Business Daily explores “Obama’s ‘Annie’ Energy Policy:”

Gas Cost: Is it just us, or do Obama’s policies sound suspiciously like that “Annie” song: Don’t worry about today’s killer pump prices, a bright energy sun will come out tomorrow.

When gasoline prices topped $4 a gallon in 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama had a simple message for voters: There’s nothing that can be done about it today.

Certainly not offshore drilling. Obama trashed Sen. John McCain’s call to open up vast tracts of offshore oil to exploration and drilling. It would not, he said in June 2008, “lower gas prices today. It would not lower gas prices this summer. It would not lower gas prices this year.”

Nor a gas tax break. Letting consumers temporarily off the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax hook was, Obama argued, merely a “gimmick” that would “only worsen our addiction to oil.”

And not even opening up more oil and gas leases. Obama said oil companies “already own drilling rights to 68 million acres of federal lands, onshore and offshore, that they haven’t touched.”

Indeed, Obama claimed that anyone suggesting a short-term fix was just trying to peddle “false promises, irresponsible policy and cheap gimmicks that might get politicians through the next election.”

Nope. What we needed, Obama argued in June 2008, was a plan for tomorrow that provided more money for alternative energy: “I will invest $150 billion over the next 10 years in alternative sources of energy.”

Fast-forward three years to this past Saturday. Gas prices again top $4 a gallon, and what’s the president’s message to struggling families? “There’s no silver bullet that can bring down gas prices right away.” And anyone who suggests otherwise is just “trying to grab headlines or score a few points.”

In a recent op-ed, Jonah Goldberg noted the Catch-22 of Obama’s do-nothing energy policy:

One suspects that Obama would dearly love to drill a lot for more oil and gas, simply for the political windfall in jobs and economic growth. But after he flipped on offshore drilling, then flopped after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, he cannot flip again without infuriating his base. So he brags about how much more drilling there is today, even though that’s the result of policies already in the pipeline.

Obama and the greens are in an exquisite bind. Without economic recovery, Americans won’t support Obama’s “investments,” but Obama’s investments are a hindrance to recovery.

But that’s also reminiscent of an earlier environmental/NIMBY Catch-22 that Obama found himself in during his first year in office, as Jonah noted last year:

Liberalism has become a cargo cult to the New Deal, but many of the achievements of the New Deal would be impossible now. Just try to get a Hoover Dam built today.

Thus it’s time for the inevitable “Obama’s just too darn smart for this gig” op-ed from one of his supporters, and Dana Milbank of the Obama-friendly Washington Post is happy to oblige:

Seeking a template to understand the enigmatic president, I consulted three leading academics in the fields of psychology and behavior. With their help, I put Obama on the couch and came away with a reasonably coherent diagnosis: There’s too much going on in the poor guy’s head.

This is of course boilerplate stuff whenever there’s a Democrat in the White House who’s in too deep: smart Democrats are invariably too wonky for their own good.

Stevenson, if he had won would have received this treatment, Carter, Clinton and now Obama have all been the beneficiaries of these sorts of liberal op-eds. (In contrast, in this worldview, the smart Republican who randomly emerges every generation or so is invariably paranoid — see also Hoover, Nixon and Cheney.) But curiously, “dumb” Republicans usually manage to do a pretty good job in the White House*, particularly in retrospect — see also: Coolidge, Ike, Reagan, and Dubya. Or as Ace writes:

[Jennifer Rubin] notes that Obama shares another connection to Jimmy Carter — liberals attempted to explain his many failures in this way as well.

I never said Bill Clinton wasn’t quite intelligent. In both glib cleverness (what most media types understand as “intelligent,” as that’s the type of intelligence they have too, to the extent they have any) and a piling heap of animal cunning. Not much actual deep intellect, but few politicians have that.

We knew Clinton was smart because he was a Rhodes Scholar, among many other examples. Sure, he got a political recommendation on that from a Senator, but there can be little doubt that of all the boys in Arkansas, Clinton was among the dozen or twenty smartest.

That’s smart. Arkansas isn’t a huge state but whenever you’re among the tops in any geographical location, you’re smart.

Now, what about Obama? There is no strong record of academic achievement. He was known as lightweight when he got his political berth as a guest lecturer at the U of C. He has never said anything profound or intellectual.

Rubin’s right. Obama is not complex. He’s simple. He’s a lefty. Clinton was too (though not as much) but Clinton had “negative capability,” which is what liberals always claim that makes someone brilliant (because they also claim that conservatives are too hidebound and numb-skulled to have).

Obama, on the other hand, is a true believer, and is dedicated only to two principles:

1, his own awesomeness,


2, “New Left” style neosocialism.

Speaking of “True Believers,” we’d have seen exactly these sorts of op-eds had we had a President Dukakis, Kerry or (especially) Al Gore, which is yet another reminder of the “unexpectedly” Jurassic worldview of the 44th president.

And while Obama’s cronies have promised the faithful that they’ll never see another Hoover Dam — it seems pretty obvious that there’s another Hoover in the White House, though without the original Hoover’s accomplishments before taking office.

Which at this point, shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone on either side of the aisle.

* Unexpectedly! of course, as Reuters defines the word.

Update: Welcome Insta-readers; and for yet more Catch-22s vexing the 44th president, check out Walter Russell Mead’s latest essay.