Belmont Club

Big in Japan

The newspapers are full of stories about how the President of the United States just became another guy standing in a group of leaders. Wall Street Journal writes “Obama Sees Diminished Heft in Seoul Due to Slow Economy, Election Setback”.  Jake Tapper headlines “Obama Fails With Chinese Currency Manipulation Push, South Korean Trade Deal”. CBS News shouts “Obama in Asia Bumps into the New World Order”. Even the hagiographic New York Times says “Obama’s Glow Dims on Trip to Asia”. Joe Klein of Time argues he doesn’t buy the conventional wisdom that the President’s Asia trip isn’t going well because Obama — and Keynes — will be proved right. Klein starts with the obvious signs of epic fail.

The President’s Asia trip doesn’t seem to be going well. The Times says he’s lost his overseas mojo–and it’s true that much of the rest of the world seems to be turning against the Keynesian path of deficit-spending as a ladder out of a recession, even Keynes’ homeland which saw French-style rioting yesterday as the result of increased college tuitions proposed by David Cameron’s Tory government.

But he concludes that the signs of Obama’s failure are an illusion.”I’m in a very on-the-other-hand mood about this. … The idea that less government spending will solve this crisis seems fanciful”.  But not as fanciful as the idea that more government spending will solve it.  Other observers are less willing than Klein to bet on Obama.  Brian Wingfield at Forbes says “the G-20 summit in Seoul this week, along with President Obama’s broader trip to Asia, is becoming more famous for what’s gone wrong for the U.S. than what’s gone right. (See: stalled trade agreement and international scorn over the Fed’s monetary easing.)” He argues the US is going to be “late to the party”. Maybe it will miss the party altogether, miss it by driving over a cliff.

Glenn Reyolds, quoting the Reluctant Leftist, says nothing about these developments should surprise anyone. Obama ran on a platform of diminishing America’s dominant role in the world and nobody wanted to listen. In fact diminishing America is about about the only campaign promise at which he has apparently succeeded. One reader told Reynolds his friends in Chicago are asking: “How did we elect this guy?”

Last spring, before the Illinois primary (which Governor Quinn barely won), we were discussing the upcoming election when, out of the blue, my friend asked, “How did we elect this guy?” – meaning President Obama. My friend, a hard-boiled Chicago machine Democrat, seemed truly astonished that this could happened – like a woman who wakes up to find herself in bed with a stranger. My guess is that now, quite a few hard-boiled professional Democrats are asking themselves that very same question: “How did we elect this guy?”

Simple. They voted for him because they thought he would deliver the gravy. Well maybe they thought wrong. Now the Democratic Machine’s concern is simple. If the Boss is a loser then maybe we’re going to be losers too. What if the gravy runs out? What if it’s all catching up with us like we knew it someday would? It happens to best of smart operators. Why shouldn’t it happen to the Democrats? So now they’re starting to worry.

Still, the President is hoping for some good atmospherics in crisis-ridden Japan. Reuters writes, “U.S. President Barack Obama is in Japan this weekend hoping that the last stop provides an upbeat finish to what has been a decidedly choppy tour of Asia.” There, meeting face to face with the leader of another troubled economy, President Obama’s stature can rise by comparison. It’s a sad sight. The Washington Post headlines, “Obama ends Asia tour with ailing nation … Its ongoing territorial dispute with China has strained a vital economic relationship. Its gross domestic product is crawling. Its population is shrinking. Its government appears increasingly at a loss for solutions.”

If Japan is at a loss for solutions so, perhaps is Barack Obama. The President will return to the US with one basic decision he must face. Will he keep Left to pursue the Hope and Change programs that have so far brought ruin to his country and personal diminution to himself?  Or will he change tack and “move to the center”? In the words of Douglas Schoen will he “embrace the deficit commission report and findings, and find a way to separate himself from an increasingly unpopular minority leader [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi] who is a drag on his re-election prospects”?  And will even that be enough?

So far the President has opted to keep Left and as Jake Tapper notes, President Obama has been unstinting in his praise of Nancy Pelosi. “I think Speaker Pelosi has been an outstanding partner for me,” the president said. “I think (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid has been a terrific partner in moving some very difficult legislation forward.  And I’m looking forward to working with the entire leadership team to continue to make progress on the issues that are important to the American people.” So he may have concluded its too late to change course or that any adjustments he might make now will simply play into this opponent’s hands.

But President Obama might have sensed his fall from grace during the Asia trip. That experience may convince him that the choice not now between Hope&Change and a “return to the failed policies of the Bush administration” but between survival and crash of monumental and perhaps catastrophic proportions. Things really are that bad. But if the past is any indication the President will care less that the field is lost than he will about owning up to error. However dire the prospect it will be Hope and Change, full speed ahead.


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