What the Election Was Not About
1. Communication—As If You Would Have Liked My Agenda Had You Just Been More Informed
President Obama’s postmortem press conference was a near disaster. He seemed subdued, but also sometimes petulant—still convinced that we, in fear and distrust, “lashed out” in anger at the doctor rather than the disease. In fact, the same voter furor that turned on him is, he thinks, what earlier elected him: only his failure to channel it properly explains the setback. Finally he did admit that he was “shellacked,” but he believes that partisanship confused us voters into shellacking him.
This common complaint that he failed to communicate just how wonderfully he had done is quite an unhinged Carteresque/Kerryesque exegesis. The problem was not that the American voter did not know about the second stimulus, ObamaCare, the efforts to push cap and trade, card check, and $3 trillion more in debt, but that he knew them all too well. When framed by 10% unemployment, slow growth, record food stamp usage, and home foreclosures, the problem was, again, too much, rather than too little, information. Obama was overexposed, not underexposed. The more he communicated on the campaign trail—“back seat,” “enemies,”“they” don’t want you to vote—the more the jaded voter turned from his cause. I fear very few will now listen to the new Obama in extremis calling for a new civility of the sort he helped destroy with his offensive and polarizing slurs and smears the last month.
2. We Spent Too Little?
Given what we know of the models of Spain, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and California, we should not take seriously another lunatic explanation that we did not borrow enough. Supposedly Obama followed the conservative Japanese route of the 1990s and thus was too fiscally restrained. This is more than insane. Increasing government spending on the way to a planned 40% of the economy, while borrowing $3 trillion was not timid. The real reason Obama turned a recession into a near depression? Let us count the ways: a) He trash-talked business (from the Chrysler creditor mess to the "at some point I do think you’ve made enough money” toss-off) into stasis, and the private sector now sits on the sidelines hoarding trillions of dollars in fear of ObamaCare, more regulation, and government confiscation.
b) His team talked non-stop about raising taxes—income taxes, payroll taxes, capital gains taxes, inheritance taxes, health care taxes, even VAT taxes. Psychologically that frightened off investors and entrepreneurs.
c) The government wasted the borrowed stimulus money on pork-barrel projects and spread-the-wealth social programs that produced no real wealth.
d) His advisory team simply quit and left town—Emanuel, Romer, Summers, Orszag—more or less confirming that they did not ever know quite what they were doing.
e) He wasted millions of legislative hours on health care that terrified employers, and very little on incentives to businesses to create jobs. I could go on, but you get the point that Obama supposedly not following the Greek mega-borrowing model was not our problem. (By the way, for all its innate crises, Japan still is in far better shape today than Italy, Spain, and Greece).