It wasn’t just Republicans that got rolled on New Year’s Eve; it was common sense and fiscal responsibility, all in pursuit of an ideology that specifically avoids a hard look at spending. President Theodore Roosevelt coined the term “power of the pulpit” to describe the unspoken opportunities available to an American President. Charisma and intelligence only enhance those powers, and the President has both.
Mr. Obama is the master of using his office to propagandize his positions. He is a master tactician. Delaying the decision to the last minute – playing brinkmanship with the people’s future – served him well. Holding a White House press conference, as he did on New Year’s Eve while the two sides were negotiating, was a perfect example. It wasn’t just the press conference, which was in questionable taste; it was the fact he had stocked it with middle class earners – much as he would have done during a campaign – to emphasize his point. His gloating over the fact that Republicans were willing to concede on the “no-new-tax” issue, while he had protected entitlements, and his outright lying by claiming the result was a “balanced’ approach, was condescending, disingenuous and disharmonious. One dollar in spending cuts for every forty dollars in new taxes is hardly balanced. As David Brooks wrote in Tuesday’s New York Times, “it sentences the country to another few years of fiscal trench warfare.” It did little to help negotiations and did a lot to further divide an already divided electorate.
Our founders were certainly wary of too much power accruing to the executive branch, but they were equally concerned with what James Madison called a tyranny of the majority. Protecting minority rights is an essential aspect to republicanism. A President who won reelection by taking less than 51% of the majority vote does not have a mandate to impose his will. He is the leader of a republic who must help reconcile deeply held differences. That does not appear to be Mr. Obama’s concern
Mr. Obama understands that we live in a world in which everyone is concerned with their own priorities, as affected by the immediate present. He knows that politicians like to give and do not like to make hard choices. And he is enough of a skilled politician to recognize that the future is only a date on a distant calendar. His purpose is not to right a listing ship; it is to push through an agenda which requires exploiting and demonizing one class of Americans. Closing the deficit gap can only be achieved by raising taxes and reducing spending. Since there were no serious spending cuts, we can easily see that balance is not part of his agenda. The increase in taxes, according to the static accounting means employed by the Office of Management and Budgets (OMB) will raise $600 billion over ten years. Of course that assumes that people’s behavior does not change with higher tax rates – a bet most behavioral economists would not make. In the meantime, the deficit has been rising at a trillion dollars a year, and there was certainly very little in the fiscal cliff negotiations that would add an additional growth spurt to the economy.
History is replete with examples of democratically elected leaders who, through the tool of propaganda, the power of speech and the elevation of a sector of their citizenry to positions of hatred, caused grave problems for their people and those of the world. Mr. Obama is in a unique spot. He is smart, telegenic and charismatic. Because he is African-American, he is beyond reproach by his own Party. He has taken a small and easily vilified segment of the populace (the “wealthy,” apart from those few he has indoctrinated to his cause) and turned them into a scapegoat to rationalize why things aren’t working well. He has ignored hard decisions, despite projections that by 2025 entitlement spending and interest payments will consume 100% of federal revenues.
Fiscal conservativism got rolled on Monday and, while the President appeared to gloat in victory, it is the vast majority of middle class people who will be the losers. But, truth be told, we have no one to blame but ourselves.