Belmont Club

Proximity Alert

AOL News says that a Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that “6 in 10 Americans Lack Faith in Obama”.  The survey numbers themselves suggest that the longer the public watches President Obama in action, the less they like it. For example, total approval for Health Care has fallen from 57% in April 2009 to 45% in July 2010. The approval numbers on the economy have gone from 60% in Feb 2009 to 43% in June 2010.  Numbers on his handling of the deficit has fallen from 52% to 40% between March 2009 and July 2010. Even his campaign to cast the onus on Wall Street has hit the rocks.  His numbers on handling the financial industry have fallen from 48% to 44% in 3 months since April 2010. Confidence in his capability as Command-in-Chief has dropped.  The President’s approval numbers have declined continuously and almost inexorably in every single one of the key policy measures the survey measured.Things are going in only one direction: down. Media mogul Mort Zuckerman, who recently admitted to ghost writing one of President Obama’s speeches says “the hope that fired up the election of Barack Obama has flickered out, leaving a national mood of despair and disappointment.” Perhaps more ominously Zuckerman offers no advice about how to turn things around. In fact he’s not even sure where the bottom is:

Many people who joined the middle class, especially those who joined in the last few years, have now fallen back. It’s not over yet. Millions cannot make minimum payments on their credit cards, or are in default or foreclosure on their mortgages, or are on food stamps. Well over 100,000 people file for bankruptcy every month. Some 3 million homeowners are estimated to face foreclosure this year, on top of 2.8 million last year. Millions of homes are located next to or near a foreclosed home, and it is the latter that may determine the price of all the homes on the street. There have been dramatically sharp declines in home equity, representing cumulative losses in the trillions of dollars in what has long been the largest asset on the average American family’s balance sheet. Most of those who lost their homes are hard-working, middle-class Americans who had lost their jobs. Now many have to use credit cards to pay for essentials and make ends meet, and they are running out of credit. Another $5 trillion has been lost from pensions and savings.

But it is jobs that have long represented the stairway to upward mobility in America. For a long time, it was feared they were vulnerable to offshore competition (and indeed still are), but now the erosion is from economic decline at home. What happens as those domestic opportunities recede? Middle-class families fear they have become downwardly mobile and have not hit the bottom yet. The financial security that was once based on home equity and a pension has been swept away.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll is striking not only because it was commissioned by a normally pro-Administration group of media companies but because it conveys an implicit two-part message. Part 1: we are in an airplane diving straight for the ground and Part 2: an increasing number of passengers don’t believe the pilot knows how to fly an airplane. The two parts together spell a crash, and the only question is how many will survive. Zuckerman suggests that this time few will escape unscathed. “In all polls, voters who call themselves independents have swung against the administration and against incumbents. … Disapproval of Congress is so widespread, a recent Gallup poll suggests, that by a margin of almost two to one, Americans would rather vote for a candidate with no experience than for an incumbent. Throw the bums out is the mood.” Throw the bums out, no matter what party they belong to. In another era, that sentiment would have been called revolutionary.

This time the fallout may not be confined to the politicians. Zuckerman’s breezy admission that he helped write an Obama speech may not be forgotten by a public eager to remember who sold them the empty box. Even the press might take a hit this time.  The ability of the elite as a whole to survive a crisis has always depended on the capacity of the political system to absorb the damage by getting one party to assume the liability for mistakes. That limits responsibility to only part of the system every two years. But a truly catastrophic failure will exceed the capacity of the Democratic Party incubents to take the shock. The damage will spread to every kind incumbent and perhaps beyond.

With the crumple zone likely exceeded the possible damage to the elite system will depend on how bad things get. If it gets bad enough the system will be in uncharted territory. So the real challenge facing the Democratic Party and the political and cultural elites as a whole is not whether they can save Obama’s Presidency — that is already lost — but whether they can still save themselves. But Zuckerman and the mainstream press cannot seem to advance a feasible rescue strategy except to hope the Republicans win in November to carry off some of the blame.  They’ve gone as far as recognizing the problem but they can’t bring themselves to craft a solution. Probably that is because Washington is incapable of it. Ross Douthat comes perilously close to blaspheming the liberal faith in calling for an end government interventions in certain parts of the economy. It is an argument for limited government based on quasi-“progressive” grounds; but once adopted it implies a rejection of Barack Obama’s entire program. He knows this but doesn’t fully face it.

Take Barack Obama’s initiative to double U.S. exports in the next five years. As The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney points out, it involves the purest sort of corporate welfare: We’re lending money to foreign governments or companies so that they’ll buy from Boeing and Pfizer and Archer Daniels Midland. That’s good news for those companies’ stockholders and C.E.O.’s. But the money to pay for it ultimately comes out of middle-class pocketbooks.

The same critique can be applied to Obama’s green solar thermal initiatives and to health care. And once that Pandora’s box is opened the contagion will spread to a questioning of all kinds of entitlements. It’s not clear the liberal faith can survive the diminution of its church, which is the state.  But it is a sign of how desperate things are that Douthat is beginnning to contemplate the equivalent of  hacking off their arm with a pen-knife to escape from under the Obama rock. That probably won’t work. The pen-knife is too small; it will be too little and too late. The gravity of the situation probably exceeds the capabilities of Douthat’s belated half-measures to be effective.  Russell K. Nieli of the Princeton James Madison Program argues that the admissions policy of “Poor Whites Need Not Apply!” can’t go on for much longer.

The box students checked off on the racial question on their application was thus shown to have an extraordinary effect on a student’s chances of gaining admission to the highly competitive private schools in the NSCE database. To have the same chances of gaining admission as a black student with an SAT score of 1100, an Hispanic student otherwise equally matched in background characteristics would have to have a 1230, a white student a 1410, and an Asian student a 1550.

Racial politics, pensions, health care, unions the whole concept of Green — these and a plethora of other questions are going to be revisited in a resource scarce world. The earth shakes. Well we’re talking about a crash, aren’t we?  Neil Reynolds argues in the Globe and Mail that the welfare state itself is disintegrating and there is no way it can prevent its disorderly dissolution because once politicians have started the process of using tax money to reward favored groups deadly dynamic is started. Those who have entitlements won’t give them up, not with out a struggle, anyway. He cites Greece, a country which although bankrupt, can’t bring itself to stop spending.

“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb,” Benjamin Franklin reputedly said, “voting on what to have for lunch.” … Mobs have already taken to the venerable, iconic streets of European states, notably among them Greece, birthplace of Athenian democracy. It’s apparently easier to give wealth away than it is to take it back. Democracy assembled the welfare state peaceably enough. Can democracy dismantle it as peaceably? No, it can’t. The mobs are not finished.

“The mobs are not finished.” Why things should be different in California is an interesting question. Even though the Obama administration may be done, the terrible momentum of all that “hope and change” is not. That still has to run its course. The lasting legacy of the Obama administration was to bring it all to a head. It has written a lot of checks which an increasing number of people know can’t be cashed. Will the system pull out of the dive? Some things take time, whether it is available is another story.

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