A tale of two headlines, and a return to my new favorite section of the Constitution

Part of the genius of Matt Drudge is his instinct for incongruity -- or perhaps it is the higher congruity, as in this pair of contiguous headlines at The Drudge Report today: screaming across the screen in large red letters is the banner:

OBAMA HIKES 10-YEAR DEFICIT TO $9 TRILLION

Oh dear, right? The White House, as the linked story explains, grudgingly raised the deficit estimate by nearly $2 trillion dollars after many outside sources criticized its more modest figure of $7.1 trillion (how's that for modesty: $7 trillion!). But the effect is subtly enhanced by the quiet headline right above it: "President leaves Washington for summer vacation ..."

The effect, at least on me, is to reenforce the sense of vertiginous incompetence at the top. Early on in Obama's administration, I pondered the question of whether it was incompetence, malevolence, or both that fired the strange policies of this administration.

Every day, more people are acknowledging the gargantuan incompetence of the Obama administration: the stumbling, bumbling foreign policy that specializes in apologizing for the supposed sins of America while coddling sundry dictators and enemies of the West; the failed or failing programs like "cash-for-clunkers"; a legislative agenda that is in shambles; political bloomers like the "acted-stupidly" remark when Sgt. Crowley arrested his pal Henry Louis Gates; the even more ill-considered effort to freight the debate over health care with a sense of religious guilt and the assertion that "We are God's partners in matters of life and death."; myriad broken promises -- remember the tax cuts for 95 percent of taxpayers?; the sense of drift, edged occasionally into panic, as the awful significance of those trillions -- trillions! -- of dollars of debt sinks in. Remember: only 50-odd percent of those who file tax returns actually pay any income tax. But you can bet your bottom food-stamp, welfare check, housing subsidy, and school-lunch program that those of us who pay taxes will be paying more, a lot more.

In short, unless you've drunk the kool-aid, the incompetence of the Obama administration is like Falstaff's dishonesty: "gross as a mountain, open, palpable."

But what about the malevolence? It all depends on what you mean by "malevolence." When you calculate a quantum of evil, do you look only at intentions? Or do you also take into account the effects of certain actions, regardless of the intentions of those who brought them about? (Hint: we have here a road paved with good intentions: where do you suppose it leads?) I think the commentator Jim Cramer was onto something when he lamented that "We've elected elected a Leninist" whose "agenda is destroying the life savings of millions of Americans." Was Lenin malevolent? He didn't think so. He thought he was laboring on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised. Many Western intellectuals believed him. True, his policies -- like socialist policies wherever they're imposed -- led to vast immiseration, loss of freedom, and the growth of an unaccountable ruling nomenklatura. But he didn't mean to precipitate misery: he meant to bring about paradise on earth.