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It Takes a Government: Ideology Gaffe or Grammar Goof?

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July 25th, 2012

(Article first published as It Takes a Government: Ideology Gaffe or Grammar Goof? on Blogcritics.) Many describe it as the biggest ideology gaffe of this election year. The speaker says, in essence, that it was merely a grammar goof. Either way, it was a gift to Mitt Romney that, at least temporarily, takes the heat off his tax return dust-up. The mistake, because it certainly was that, was President Obama’s announcement to small business owners, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

The words were part of a speech Obama gave in Roanoke, Virginia on July 13. Since then, he’s been hit by a non-stop barrage of criticism from those who understand the sentences as crediting government with building the private sector.  Small business owners are insulted by the President’s assertion that the Government gave them their businesses. Reeling from the negative reactions, Obama claimed seven days later that the “that” which small business owners didn’t build was roads and bridges.

Obama’s claim has done nothing to quell the controversy. In context, his disputed words are:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet.”

The claim that, like the Internet, the Government created small businesses so people could make money off of them angers voters. But, is the anger misplaced? Is it really just a case of grammar errors? And knuckle-wrapping bad grammar it is. “a business” and “that” are singular. Roads and bridges are plural. So “you didn’t build that” necessarily refers to “a business”. Otherwise, the President would have said, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build those”.

On the other hand, the “you didn’t build that” phrase is grammatically incorrect even in its obvious meaning. Specifically, the word “that” in the sentence is a declarative article, which is only used properly to refer to a specific noun. Declarative articles are not used to reference general nouns, such as “a business”.

And that may be the biggest argument in favor of the President’s insistence that his words are misunderstood. His speeches are replete with grammatical errors. Dropping the ending g’s off of gerunds is a particular favorite of his. Another is using slang contractions such as ‘gonna’ for “going to”.  These improper usages are affectations. Obama thinks they make him sound like a man of the (to him, grammatically challenged) masses and, hence, more credible.

As alluring as the grammar goof excuse appears, it doesn’t pass the laugh test for two reasons. The entire context of that section of the President’s speech contradicts his claim of grammatical error only. His consistent message of the last four years undermines it as well.

Obama’s contested statements were part of his justification for increasing taxes on the rich. They were made toward the end of a 40-minute monologue given to a very receptive audience. Apparently, he was inspired by the recurring cheers and applause to state frankly the ideological underpinning of his economic thesis: the Government creates private success.

A couple of paragraphs earlier in the speech, Obama stated, in referring to the Clinton tax increases:

“And, by the way, we’ve tried that before — a guy named Bill Clinton did it. We created 23 million new jobs, turned a deficit into a surplus, and rich people did just fine. We created a lot of millionaires (emphasis supplied).”

After crediting the government with private wealth creation, Obama went on to chastise successful business owners on two counts. According to him, they believe, and wrongly so, that they are smarter and harder working than other Americans. The President stated further that only two factors drive private business success, the government and the initiative of those who choose to own businesses.

Obama would not be more incorrect if he had stated a belief in an earth-centric universe. If success in business only requires the government and personal initiative, the failure rate of small businesses would be virtually zero. Instead, even in non-recession years half of the people who start their own businesses fail. The main reason is mismanagement. Owners can have all of the initiative in the world, but the doors will close anyway if they can’t manage money, people, resources and time.

While competent management skills are necessary to succeed they are not enough. Small business owners must be willing to risk personal financial disaster and work like they’re indentured to the venture because they are. The small business owner, tiny actually, in our pack was typical of the breed. During the fiscal year, our pack member and a co-owner paid their people first taking only a monthly stipend for themselves. At the end of the year, employees were bonused according to the business’s profitability and their relative contributions. After that, money was put back into the company to fund the next year’s growth. Only then did the two owners take their bonuses, which typically were less than those of some of the employees.

As for the level of effort required to sustain the business, these owners worked 80 – 100 hour weeks for years. They looked forward to weekends, not because they got time off, but because they could work productive 16-hour days without phones ringing or email beckoning. Business travel was always either on Sunday nights or weeknights after putting in a full day at the office. They missed birthdays, anniversaries, family gatherings, parties and so many other social functions that they lost count. Ultimately, they sold the business and made sure that their employees kept their jobs with the new owner.

Make no mistake. These two people are not special. They are just like millions of other small business owners. These folks do work harder than most. They have to put in the time or the venture fails.  They take care of their employees first. They risk their personal finances. They make life choices that others wouldn’t even consider. They do not deserve the derisive scorn heaped on them by the current occupant of the White House. They don’t have time to think of themselves as smarter or harder working. They’re too busy striving to succeed.

The President’s denial of the personal risks taken, the extraordinary effort expended and the sacrifices made to succeed in business is shameful. Equally wrong is his claim of a government-centric economy. His roads and bridges example is, simply put, ass-backwards. The government is a facilitator of commerce not a creator of wealth. It did not provide infrastructure from which commerce then flowed. Commerce, or business, came first and thrived. As a result, taxpayers demanded the use of their dollars to facilitate its expansion across state boundaries. In our democracy, government is the servant of the people, not the master.

But, Obama’s upside down view of the role of government is necessary to justify his wealth redistribution agenda. If the government creates wealth, the government can dictate how it is spent. He has advocated redistributing the wealth since at least his much-publicized conversation with Joe the Plumber on the 2008 campaign trail. On that occasion, the President-to-be stated, “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

A little later in his conversation with Joe, Obama gave his justification for wealth redistribution:

“The only thing that changes, is I’m gonna cut taxes a little bit more for the folks who are most in need and for the 5% of the folks who are doing very well – even though they’ve been working hard and I appreciate that – I just want to make sure they’re paying a little bit more in order to pay for those other tax cuts. Now, I respect the disagreement. I just want you to be clear – it’s not that I want to punish your success – I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you – that they’ve got a chance at success too.”

Again, Obama stated his view that the government is the force behind the economic success of individuals. But, that time, he wasn’t referring to small business owners like Joe who had already succeeded. Obama was talking about everyone else in the country. Making everyone successful is a pretty tall order, one that over $5 trillion in deficit spending in the past 3 1/2 years has failed to fill. One wonders why Obama never thought to cut spending in order “to pay for those other tax cuts.”

Two years later, the President stated, in a spontaneously uttered sentence, “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” In context, the sentence reads:

“We’re not, we’re not trying to push financial reform because we begrudge success that’s fairly earned. I mean, I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money. But, you know, part of the American way is, you know, you can just keep on making it if you’re providing a good product or providing good service. We don’t want people to stop, ah, fulfilling the core responsibilities of the financial system to help grow our economy.“

Obama did catch himself almost immediately, stating that his personal belief was not policy. Maybe not then, but it is now. If government creates individual success as he insisted in 2008 and on July 13 of this year, it can arbitrarily dictate when individuals have enough.

Whether ideology gaffe or grammar goof, there’s one thing that can be said about the President’s word choices. If there were a great teacher somewhere in his life that helped him along the line, he or she wasn’t an English teacher.

See you on the left-side.

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On the Left Side

With Unlimited Taxing Authority, Who Needs the Commerce Clause?

Blog From
July 2nd, 2012

(Article first published as With Unlimited Taxing Authority, Who Needs the Commerce Clause? on Blogcritics.) In a decision with so many moving parts that Rube Goldberg would be envious, the U.S. Supreme Court last week upheld ObamaCare’s individual mandate. Writing for a majority of the Court, Chief Justice John Roberts concluded that the mandate is a tax rather than a penalty. As a tax it passes constitutional muster. As a penalty it does not. ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion provision did not fare as well. The Court struck down as unconstitutional Congress’s attempt to force states to provide significantly increased coverage or lose all federal Medicaid funding.

In the wake of the Medicaid ruling, states have begun to opt out of providing the additional coverage. The absence of state participation will necessarily impact the precarious payment formula for the costly health care package. The extent remains to be seen.

So far, most of the media attention surrounding the Court’s decision has centered on its political implications in this election year. ObamaCare is an unpopular law made even more so last Thursday when the scarlet “T” was emblazoned on its virtual forehead. Recognizing the downside of having passed the single biggest tax increase in American history, the White House continues to mischaracterize the mandate as a penalty.

Beyond the persistent mislabeling, Obama’s primary argument in favor of his signature piece of legislation is a variation of Nancy Pelosi’s failed rallying cry. Back in 2010 the former Speaker stated, “we’ll have to pass the health care bill so that you can find out what is in it”. Obama has turned that into “you’ll love it when you understand it”. Nancy’s spiel didn’t sell two years ago and the President’s won’t do any better now.

Recognizing the riskiness of the recast wait-and-see pitch, the Administration has a third response to ObamaCare critics. The legislation is not an issue in this election because Romney successfully pushed universal healthcare, including an individual mandate, as Governor of Massachusetts. The theory here is that two wrongs cancel each other out as if neither happened so there’s nothing to talk about.

It is way past time to point out the fundamental flaw in Obama’s “Romney did it, too” dismissal. Namely, a state deciding to implement universal health care for its citizens is not the same thing as the federal government forcing it on all states and their citizens. It’s a little matter of states’ rights versus the overreaching of Congress in attempting to dictate the intricacies of life from afar. As the Medicaid expansion ruling points out, Congress is not in the business of being in our business in all places or at all times.

But, the most far-reaching effect of the Supreme Court’s ObamaCare ruling is not the impact on this year’s election. The response in the voting booth this fall will prove much less important than the Court’s unlimited expansion of Congress’s taxing authority. In pronouncing the individual mandate a tax rather than a penalty, the Court’s majority argued speciously and in a marked departure from previous case law. The ruling did strike down the Administration’s Commerce Clause claim of authority. But, that matters not at all when the power to tax is unrestrained.

Joined by Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, Chief Justice Roberts used a 90-year old, infrequently cited, case as his only stake in the ground. Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co., 259 U.S. 20 (1922), a child labor law decision, declared a Congressionally defined tax to be a penalty and invalidated it. In changing the characterization of the tax to that of penalty, the Drexel Furniture case employed three factors: (1) whether the financial burden is heavy, (2) whether its imposition requires the intent to misbehave and (3) the nature of the government agency charged with enforcement.

Applying these considerations, the ObamaCare Court found that the mandate is a lesser financial burden than purchasing health care insurance. It requires no bad intent on the part of those who must pay it. And, it is enforced by the IRS not the FBI or other law enforcement agency. According to the Court’s majority, these circumstances, taken together, point to the mandate as being a tax rather than a penalty. But, according to the four dissenting justices, this conclusion is spurious, ignores decades of High Court opinions and impermissibly denies Congressional intent.

Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito make compelling arguments as they strip away the logical veneer from the majority’s legal constructs. Citing dozens of cases and statutes, the dissenters point out that the amount of the levy is inconsequential as is the fact that it is income-based. While the requirement of intent does point to a penalty, its absence does not suggest a tax. And, finally, the IRS collects penalties as a routine part of its charter.

Even with the strength of this portion of the dissent’s rejoinder, there are two arguments of greater persuasive force against the mandate as a tax. The first is also found in the dissent. The other is mentioned, and dismissed, almost as an afterthought by the Chief Justice.

The dissent’s most profound counter argument is that the decision usurps the federal taxing authority reserved by the constitution to Congress alone. Not only does ObamaCare refer to the mandate as a penalty in eighteen separate places, Congress explicitly rejected the idea of it being a tax. An early draft of the legislation did label the mandate a tax. But, that characterization was changed to one of penalty in later versions and in the final version. With all of the horse trading that was required to barely pass the legislation, branding it a tax would have sounded the death knell.

So, the Court’s mandate-as-tax is not merely the strained interpretation of a statute in order to save it, which is permitted. It is an intrinsic re-write of the statute turning it into something other than Congress intended. As such, it amounts to judicial legislation, which is not permitted. And it means that the Court has morphed itself into the tax-levying branch of government, which also is not permitted.

Perhaps the most potent argument against the mandate ruling is that the Court’s tax applies to acts of omission rather than commission. While the majority found this dichotomy fatal to the application of the Commerce Clause, it had no trouble decreeing it under Congress’s taxing authority.

At the end of the mandate discussion, Chief Justice Roberts touches upon the tax omission/commission conflict. He makes three feeble arguments for allowing Congress to tax acts of omission while placing no limitations on the type of omissions that may be taxed. The ruling is a stunning no-holds-barred grant of authority that permits Congress to compel personal behavior of any kind. Against that panorama of power, the Commerce Clause is but drab window dressing.

One can only hope that a future Supreme Court decision, like the election results this fall, will restore sanity to our federal branches of government.

See you on the left-side.

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On the Left Side

The Curious Choice of Bill Clinton

Blog From
June 12th, 2012

(Article first published as The Curious Choice of Bill Clinton on Blogcritics.) Barack Obama desperately wants American voters to believe that he’s Bill Clinton. After all, Clinton is still among the most popular democratic icons in the country – much more popular than, for example, Obama himself. Clinton is the only democratic president since WWII to win a second term. Thanks to a big shove to the right by the 1994 electorate, which installed a Republican Congress, Clinton gets away with labeling himself a centrist. For the same reason, he is the only democratic president in recent memory who can credibly claim  a fiscally conservative four-year term.

Given the country’s current protracted economic flatline, hippity hopping down the campaign trail next to Clinton is the closest Obama will come to fiscal responsibility. But, is trying to bask in Bill’s limelight worth the sure-fire disaster of being in close proximity to the former Commander-in-Chief?  For days now, Clinton’s anti Obama comments have fed the conspiracy theory bloggers who believe that the former president is sabotaging Obama’s re-election efforts.

However, the question is not Clinton’s motivations. It’s why, on balance, Obama chooses to use Clinton at all. It seems a very curious choice indeed. Maybe there’s no stopping Bill so trying to put a happy face on his remarks is better than letting him rampage on his own.

But, maybe not. Despite his highly favorable press ratings, Bill Clinton just doesn’t do well campaigning for others. His stumping in 2008 made things much worse for Hillary’s presidential bid. In fact, the increasing magnitude of his gaffes is one of the main reasons why Obama blew her off the primary map.

Two years later, Clinton decided that he would single-handedly save the Democratic Party in the 2010 elections. So, he hit the campaign trail hard. We know how that turned out. It hit back harder. More recently, Bill was in Wisconsin to save the public unions with the sheer force of his magnetic personality. The result? Walker turned back the recall effort by a larger margin than his gubernatorial victory.

In the current campaign fray, Clinton has been a human IED exploding all over Obama’s messaging. Like, giving the green light to extending the Bush era tax cuts and oohing and aahing over Romney’s sterling business career.

To be sure, democratic officials were quick to dispute Clinton’s statements and Bill himself tried to backpedal with apologies to the Obama campaign. But, his mea culpas sound hallow, especially the incredibly disingenuous excuse he gives for originally favoring the continuation of the tax cuts. Failing to recall when they are set to expire just doesn’t ring true for the Rhodes Scholar. Even more telling is the fact that Clinton advocated essentially the same course in a video-taped interview last fall.

In Clinton’s speeches, he invariably speaks of his own accomplishments in singular terms, which makes Obama look puny in comparison. And even after professing regrets for stepping on the current White House occupant, Clinton still keeps that course. Last Thursday he managed to backhand Obama for the decline in median income since 2000, Clinton’s last year in office.

It’s not for nothing that Romney campaign staffers refer to Clinton as their favorite Obama surrogate. The lesson for democrats is, like the 1950’s Brylcreem hair styling ads proclaimed, a little dab of Clinton will do ya. If it does any good at all.

But, even with all of Clinton’s shenanigans, perhaps he isn’t the biggest disaster to hit the Obama campaign in recent days. In the space of less than 72 hours, the President and his chief campaign strategist assumed that role, at least temporarily.

First, on Friday Obama claimed that the private sector is “doing fine”. Then David Axelrod, in a couple of damage-control appearances over the weekend, stated that the private sector should simply hire more teachers and firefighters. When informed that those are public sector jobs, Axelrod just kept talking about the benefits of hiring public employees.

In fairness, Axelrod still might be shell-shocked from the Wisconsin recall explosion. Even so, the Obama team obviously doesn’t know what the private sector is, which finally explains why the Administration can’t stimulate the economy. With that reality coming into sharper and sharper focus, maybe the curious choice of Bill Clinton won’t be so damaging after all.

See you on the left-side.

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On the Left Side

Good One, Mr. President, except Spending is no Laughing Matter

Blog From
May 29th, 2012

President Obama has made several appearances on comedy shows since his election to the nation’s highest office. So, last week, he tried a little stand up of his own. He claimed that during his Presidency federal spending has risen at the lowest rate since the Eisenhower Administration. The punch line is that Obama is, therefore, a fiscal conservative. Given our increasing national debt, the gag was not that funny, but the guy is, after all, a novice.

Not getting the joke, a lot of media outlets across the country tried debunking the claim. It doesn’t seem to be that hard to do. But now Obama is also taking himself seriously. He’s making the punch line an arrow in his re-election quiver.  If he is believed, the joke is definitely on us.

Claiming that the year-to-year increase in spending is not that great is a great diversion if it works. It’s like bragging that you’ve slowed the Titanic’s sink rate after slamming into the iceberg, which is nothing to brag about at all. The boat is still on the seabed. Today, the question is not the rate of federal spending increase. It’s why, with ballooning debt and trillions in annual deficits, spending is increasing at all. Allowing Obama to keep people focused on the former is letting him off the hook for his lack of fiscal stewardship.

One of the most common metrics used to put annual federal spending in context is as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). Federal spending in the last year of Eisenhower’s Presidency decreased as a percentage of GDP by almost 10% from the first year. It began at 20.4% and closed at 18.4%. By contrast, the federal spending rate in each year of Obama’s Presidency has exceeded 24%, the highest level since 1946 in the aftermath of WWII.

Another common federal spending metric is comparing the national debt to GDP. This year, the rising national debt surpassed the total value of all goods and services produced in the United States. The last time federal spending exceeded GDP was, no surprise, in 1946 when the debt was a demure $270 billion.

Currently, the federal debt is almost $15.75 trillion. When Obama took office, that figure was $10.626 trillion or a 48% increase in forty months. In fact, the debt increased more in Obama first thirty-eight months in office than it did during his predecessor’s eight-year presidency.

As the budget Obama sent to Congress earlier this year attests, the end is nowhere in sight.  The President’s budget projects the debt at $16.3 trillion in 2012 and $17.5 trillion in 2013. If his projections hold, it will exceed $20 trillion in 2016, the final year of an Obama second term. That represents a total debt increase of 87% during eight years of an Obama presidency.

In comparison, the federal debt during the eight Eisenhower years grew by a paltry 6.5%. Put another way, the rate of national debt expansion under eight years of Obama would be almost 15 times greater than it was under Eisenhower.

One can only imagine what the spending level would be today without a Republican-controlled House. Or how much future federal expenditures like Obamacare will really add to the spending total.

So, Mr. President, it seems like the joke is on you. Too bad it’s not really a laughing matter.

See you on the left-side.

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Where’s a Presidential Apology When You Need One?

Blog From
March 16th, 2012

(Article first published as Where’s a Presidential Apology When You Need One? on Blogcritics.) President Obama was excoriated for last month’s apology to Afghan President Karzai after several copies of the Koran were inadvertently burned. This type of criticism is nothing knew. Obama has been disparaged for years for apologizing for America. His speech in Berlin during the 2008 presidential campaign earned him one of the earliest censures. It was followed by the much-maligned 2009 “apology tour” of several continents during which Obama found plenty of fault with America’s past.

The President’s rebukes have been uttered in Ankara, London, Prague, Cairo, Strasbourg, Trinidad and Washington D.C., among other places. In these appearances, Obama criticized America for committing a whole host of misdeeds. Among them are slavery, mistreatment of Native Americans, the global financial crisis, nuclear weapons, global warming, practicing self-interest, being dismissive and derisive of our allies and arrogance.

While Obama’s denouncements were well received by the international community, many in this country resented them. So, critics viewed Obama’s letter to Karzai after last month’s Koran burning as just another apology by a president too eager to utter them.

But, that critical assessment is wrong. Obama has never actually apologized for America at all, not even to Karzai for the Koran burning incident. His earlier remarks amounted to admissions and condemnations, but they were never apologetic. Read in context, Obama’s statements are simply Obama being Obama. In most cases, he is ponderously critical, not just of America, but of the nations of his audience as well. His disparaging assessments come with utopian instructions on how countries must change in order to live in Obama’s future.

As far as the apology to Karzai is concerned, it was about as sincere as Rush Limbaugh’s mea culpa to Sandra Fluke. Obama’s intent was damage control. He wanted to save American lives and to minimize other predictable adverse consequences. For all the good it did. Afghanis killed six Americans and claimed another thirty lives in violent riots that continued for several days after the burning was reported. Regardless, apologies given to limit negative outcomes are not apologies at all.

When the riots in Afghanistan were in full force, the Defense Department announced that the remains of an undisclosed number of 9/11 victims were desecrated. The bodies of 9/11 victims were processed at the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base.  Until 2008, unidentifiable remains from the Pentagon attack and the plane crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania were reduced to ashes and dumped in a landfill.

A defense contractor burned the remains and put them in the refuse dump. While incineration is standard procedure at the base, dumping is not. And there is no indication that military personnel were aware that it occurred. They mistakenly assumed that nothing survives incineration. (These folks must be truly stumped over the market for cremation urns.)

The story didn’t get a lot of press and even less reaction from the White House. Obama himself has said nothing about it at all despite the obvious similarities with the latest Koran incident. Through poor judgment, the books were burned and dumped in a landfill on base. Afghani workers discovered the charred remnants. Through utter disregard for oversight and decency, the 9/11 remains were incinerated and discarded in a garbage heap. The years-long actions were discovered during a whistleblower-triggered investigation into allegations of mismanagement at the mortuary.

As Commander In Chief, Obama sent his regrets to Karzai for a mistake committed by troops on foreign soil. But, we’re still waiting for his apology about the misdeeds of a base under his command in this country.

Why did the President treat the incidences so differently? In a word, politics. With the Koran burning, Obama leveraged an opportunity to appear presidential in sending his regrets. And, most Americans agree with that decision.

But, Obama gains no benefit at all in highlighting yet another 9/11-related tragedy through an apology or otherwise. Considering the public response to his pro Ground Zero Mosque stance, Obama wants to keep 9/11 out of the mix of issues this election year. It may not be a bad political strategy, but it is far from presidential. Or honest.

On the day the 9/11 story broke, Obama was in Washington D.C. He spoke at a UAW conference, ate lunch with Joe Biden and took a couple of briefings. He had ample time to consider and respond to the shock and pain of the 9/11 families and of the country as a whole. Where is an actual presidential apology when you need one?

See you on the left-side.

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Democrats to Obama: Stay Out of Town

Blog From
November 14th, 2011

(Article first published as Democrats to Obama: Stay Out of Town on Blogcritics.) As the clock ticks down to zero hour for the Congressional Super Committee, President Obama is on a nine-day relationship-building junket to Asia. Leaving town when Congress is struggling with issues crucial to the American economy has become Obama’s stock-in-trade. Prior to the Asia tour, he spent weeks on the campaign trail, ducking the difficult job of developing a meaningful resolution of the debt crisis. He did, however, use his electioneering to sharpen his divisive rhetoric, which accomplished nothing except to widen the partisan divide.

Oh, and one other thing. It clarified Obama’s re-election strategy. Like the sun rising in the east, he will, of course, continue to lob blame bombs in all directions. But, he’s also putting geographic distance between himself and Washington D.C.  He places a lot of faith in the out-of-sight-out-of-mind maxim, hoping physical separation will disassociate him from the mess he’s helped create.

Obama’s re-election game plan should not come as a huge surprise since it has a lot in common with his governance style. For the latter, he offers meaningless straw man proposals for chronic problems that can neither work nor be accepted. And when they aren’t, he casts aspersions on whomever for rejecting them.

The latest two examples are his “millionaires and billionaires” debt solution and is his jobs plan. Both are non-starters because there’s a lot more harm than the little good in them and so cannot responsibly be put in place. But, they’re great sound bites for those desperate for easy solutions to devastating dilemmas. Obama hopes enough of those folks are out there to keep him in the White House.

To be sure, Obama’s strategy, whether governance or re-election, is much easier than long hours at the negotiating table facing huge helpings of bitter choices. And at least part of that strategy is getting support from unexpected places. Democrat Congressman Heath Shuler, D-N.C., agrees that Obama should stay out of town.

Shuler is the co-leader of a bipartisan group of 100 representatives urging the Super Committee to cut the debt by $4 trillion. He doesn’t think a divisive President can help that effort. Obama has made himself such a lightening rod for political rancor that the resolution process stands a better chance of succeeding without him. That’s a pathetic commentary on the so-called leader of our Country especially from someone who sits on the same side of the political aisle.

Shuler’s bipartisan effort, co-led by Republican Mike Simpson (R-ID), is one ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak outlook. Unlike the rest of their colleagues, they and the other 98 representatives in their group, want all options on the debt reduction table. Without both revenue increases and spending cuts, there’s no chance of a sustainable debt reduction. Without both revenue increases and spending cuts, there’s no chance for a sustainable debt reduction.

The question is whether anyone in D.C. is listening to them. Some in Congress are already revving up the blame machine, as the Super Committee remains deadlocked. The prospect of failure looms so large that, today, the smart money in town is squarely on fiasco. Two years ago, Obama was labeled the “Great Mediator”. Where is that guy now? Oh, yeah, he’s out of town.

When asked, given the perilous economic times at home, whether the President would cut short his Asian trip, White House officials said no. They fear that a foreshortened trip would be a slap in the face to Asian allies. But, it seems a small risk in order to prevent people from growing old on our unemployment line.

What this Country needs, even more than debt reduction, is an actual leader. We just can’t seem to elect one.

See you on the left-side.

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On the Left Side

Obama Roasted by Nuclear Option Fallout?

Blog From
October 3rd, 2011

(Article first published as Obama Roasted by Nuclear Option Fallout? on Blogcritics.) With his poll numbers falling at least as fast as our economic outlook, a desperate Barack Obama exercised the nuclear option in his re-election bid. On September 19, Dan Pfeiffer, the President’s communications director, told the New York Times that the period of political compromise is “behind us”. This week, nine months into the current Congress and fourteen before the election, Obama went on a scorched earth campaign swing using the same spiel. In choosing to wage war on everything to his right, including, expressly, the middle ground, he has rained hellfire down on political negotiation. Has he roasted himself in the process?

Obama has never been much for bipartisanship anyway. From his first days in office, when he rebuffed Republican overtures with his “I won” retort, he has shown neither the aptitude, nor inclination, for it. With the new Republican House, Obama’s notion of negotiation is a lot more like dictation. He only tried to work out a deal with Republicans on one occasion and that failed when he kept moving the goal posts. Most often, his approach has been as it was with his jobs plan. Unveiling proposals to everyone at the same time while unilaterally anointing them beforehand as bipartisan. That is, and will always be, an amateurish non-starter.

By the middle of September, Obama’s re-election chances were dimming, even without a consensus Republican opponent. His base, consisting of leftist groups, was increasingly disenchanted. Independents, whom he has pursued ardently for the past year, remained aloof. Even California voters, for the first time since Obama’s inauguration, disapproved of his performance. Special elections in New York and Nevada went to GOP candidates because voters spurned Obama’s policies.

Things got so bad for the President that Clinton Strategist, James Carville, urged him to fire his staff and learn how to actually compromise. Instead, Obama’s response is to become more combative, more divisive and more extreme. Dismissing voter rejection, the President believes that isolating himself on the political left and excoriating all who disagree is a winning strategy. If he’s correct, it will be the first time in American history that an incompetent wins re-election by a take-no-prisoners appeal to extremism.

Fortunately, Obama’s strategy isn’t working. Oh, he’s made those in his base less jittery with assurances that his next term will be more to their liking. But, the left can’t get him elected. He needs the Independent vote, which he carried in 2008. To attract them, Obama has engaged in emotional, and distorted, rhetoric aimed at making the Republicans look so bad that he looks good by comparison.

Among his weapon of words is legislation that has no chance of passing. Obama plans to introduce several bills of that kind just to paint Republicans as wrong for the country. Basically, our President will throw childish temper tantrums in an effort to make himself look better than the adults in the room. “Hope and Change” has become “The Best of the Worst”. Not even Democrats are getting in line behind that.

While rhetoric and Bush got Obama elected in 2008, he’ll need more than verbiage and the Tea Party to do it again. He’ll need Republicans to nominate the wrong candidate, a polarizing right-winger, like Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann, who makes thinking people cringe. A majority of American voters generally reject extremist candidates on both ends of the political spectrum. While fanatics do occasionally win elections, it’s because they are smart enough not to campaign as one. And neither Perry nor Bachmann is that smart.

Obama’s campaign swing this week was full of bombastic self-praise for his successful first term and exhortations for four more years of the same. If an economy and job market made perilously worse are accomplishments, if dead end government programs and spiraling debt are resume headliners, what’s failure? We’ll never know because we’ll be moving to Australia.

See you on the left-side.

Posted in On the Left Side

 

 

On the Left Side

Why Obama’s Jobs Speech Will Be A Nonstarter

Blog From
September 7th, 2011

(First published as Why Obama’s Jobs Speech Will Be a Nonstarter on Blogcritics.) President Obama will give yet another major speech this Thursday night. He’ll speak in broad platitudes and intone about the seriousness of our predicament. He will emphasize the necessity of working together. He will, of course, offer way too little in the way of specifics, but whatever it is will have a huge price tag. And his speech will come a cropper, die aborning, stumble out of the gate, take a dirt nap. Pick your metaphor. The speech will go the way of all of his other featured addresses, which is to say, precisely nowhere. Why? As Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wrote, “let me count the ways” or at least the three main ones.

First, Obama talks too much. He’s a man of big words and small deeds, long on rhetoric and short on results. In fact, his Administration has produced no sustained economic growth in its existence. We’ve heard the reasons for this failure repeatedly and the only thing that changes is the length of the list. It grows. And grows. Bush, the evils inherent in the American financial industry, the Tea Party, the Republican House majority, the Tea Party, the tsunami in Japan. But, when the smoke is blown away, what remains is what Obama has actually done. And it is a pitifully small pile of inconsequential, albeit costly, programs.

Lest we forget, the Republican congressional majority has existed for only the last 8 months or twenty-five percent of Obama’s time in office. For the first 24 months, he had his way with Congress, to the point of losing control of the House in the 2010 elections. What were the President’s economic accomplishments during that two-year period? Absolutely nothing that had a sustainable impact. Much of what he did had no impact at all.

The futility of the Administration’s efforts to jump start the economy is not limited to embarrassing hype programs like Cash for Clunkers. A much more telling example is Obama’s efforts to resurrect the housing market, the other elephant in the room that he mostly ignores. There was HAMP, 2MP, HAFA, PRA, HAUP and several others. Despite those efforts, and the billon$ they cost, the housing market is now in a double dip recession. You could argue successfully that it never arose from the first one. But, economists agree that, if it did, it fell into the second one last May. So much for the power of acronyms over actions.

Second, with his majority in the House a thing of the past, Obama must compromise to move the country forward. But, he either misunderstands compromise or simply can’t bring himself to engage in it. That’s really a coin toss. Compromise is not in his nature. For example, he is advertising his Thursday night speech, with its first word yet to be heard, as “bipartisan”. This billing could simply be political, as in everything the President says is bipartisan and therefore anyone who disagrees with him is necessarily partisan.

Or, as likely, Obama believes that if he moves away from any part of his original agenda, he is being bipartisan. But, this belief, of course, ignores the meaning of the word. Bipartisan means of, relating to or involving representatives of two different parties. Unless you suffer from a mental disorder like schizophrenia, you can’t be bipartisan all by yourself. The President needs to come to grips with this fact and stop listening to the little voices both in his head and in his Administration. He actually has to involve Republicans in defining solutions. Simply making unilateral pronouncements and daring his opponents not to accept them isn’t bipartisanship. But, it is a strategy for failure.

Third, making a significant, and sustainable, reduction in the unemployment rate is beyond Obama’s capabilities and those of his hand-picked advisors. This reason is the crux of the problem with all of his speechifying. He’s not very good at politics, but he’s even worse at problem solving. To gain acceptance of his ideas, he prays on people’s fears, distorts opposing viewpoints and protects sacred cows beyond our ability to support them. None of this will fix our unemployment quandary.

Joblessness cannot be dealt with in the vast vacuum of political posturing. The unemployment rate will come down when the economy recovers and not before, at least not in a lasting way. Getting the economy on track means taking strong actions. We are way past short-term fixes for political advantage. We need: (a) tax reform including, among other things, incentives to business, (b) repeal of much of the costly, burdensome business regulations put in place since 2009, and (c) a serious commitment to deficit reduction, which requires effective entitlement reform. These actions create the stable environment that businesses need in order to recover and begin hiring in earnest again.

The good news for Obama is that if he can get those things done, he can also get re-elected. But, as long as his speeches are major and his actions minor, he doesn’t stand a chance. And that’s good news for everyone else.

See you on the left-side.

Posted in On the Left Side

 

 

On the Left Side

The Fatal Conceit of Perpetual Prosperity: Will It Sell?

Blog From
August 17th, 2011

(Article first published as The Fatal Conceit of Perpetual Prosperity: Will It Sell? on Blogcritics.) Winston Churchill once said, “The biggest argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Today, the truth of that observation is being determined in democracies around the globe. In the U.S., with politicians sharply divided along partisan lines on how to solve our fiscal crisis, voters will decide on the path forward. Are they up to the task? Will they buy the perpetual prosperity pitch or insist on belt-tightening? With the chips down, will Americans both recognize and reject political absurdities or is Churchill right? Will they be as foolish as some of their currently elected officials?

The prospect of perpetual prosperity can be alluring. This enticement lies at the heart of Obamanomics, which promises endless entitlements for some through higher taxes on others. But, as the demand for entitlements increases through larger aging populations and expanding social services to many more, the price tag grows exponentially. This necessitates a bigger and bigger revenue pot or deeper and deeper annual deficits. Since most of Obama’s fellow democrats agree that deficits must be tamed, entitlements require a mushrooming revenue stream gushing into federal coffers.

Under Obamanomics, the funding source is higher taxes on the rich, of course, but the sustainability of that model is not addressed. The continuing ability of those footing the bill to meet the growing demand for their money is simply assumed. These people are supposed to be a perpetual moneymaking machine with a need-to-achieve compulsion that assures ever more federal revenue.

A telling dichotomy underlies this belief. While abiding achievement is assumed in one part of the population, indelible dependence is assumed in the other, much larger, part. Viewed in microevolution terms, this change in a once-unified group marks the beginning of two subspecies, producers and consumers. Under predictable evolutionary progression, producers prosper, even if it means migrating to more accommodating locales, while consumers eventually go extinct.

The analogy could not be clearer. The indispensable core of Obamanomics is also its inevitable demise. Friedrich Heinemann, the Corporate Taxation and Public Finance Department Chair at the Centre for European Economic Research, defines the problem as a forced morality change.

In a study of the long-term impact of social norms on the welfare state, Heinemann concludes that increasing benefits and unemployment fatally destabilize the system. A generous welfare state creates a dependency in those who take from it, undermining the social norms indispensible to its survival. People become so used to feeding at the public trough, they will cheat to keep the benefits coming. Heinemann’s is not a politically correct study, but reality rarely is.

The reaction of the Greeks to their Government’s austerity measures is also real and underscores Heinemann’s point. After decades of extravagant social spending, the Greeks have shot through dire straights and are dangling in mid air over financial ruin. Keeping them from falling into the abyss is the refusal of European leaders to see their banks and their economies undone by unpaid Greek loans. But, the eurozone’s rescue imposes “austerity” on the country, if living within its means can be fairly called austere.

And the Greeks don’t like it one bit. They burn. They loot. They riot. They vent their displeasure like spoiled children whose profligate parents are trying to change their ways. And yet, public support is critical to the success of reforms necessary to restore financial health. Whether it is ultimately given is anyone’s guess.

Meanwhile, in a show of resolve, Wisconsin voters rejected the bullying tactics of national unions, refusing to restore democrat control to their legislature. All the national boys could buy for their thirty-five million dollars in campaign spending was a net gain of two seats. Sounds vaguely like the federal deficit.

Granted, this was not a direct showdown on Obamanomics. But, it does maintain the reforms that were ushered in by the 2010 elections, which were a rejection of Obama’s fiscal policies. And you can bet that, had the unions succeeded, our president would be on the stump today pushing the result as next year’s victory predictor.

Will the country’s voters follow Wisconsin’s lead and opt for responsible government or will they burn and loot in the footsteps of Greek rioters? Is there really a choice? On October 8, 2008, the national debt stood at $10.1 trillion. Today, less than three years later, it has spiraled past $14.6 trillion for a 45 percent increase. Other than hand waving and smoke screens, all we have to show for it is an historic downgrade in our credit rating.

In 2012, voters can turn out the lights on Obama or tune up the orchestra because it’ll be time for “Nearer My God To Thee”.

See you on the left-side.

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On the Left Side

The Hard Consequences of Do Nothing

Blog From
August 3rd, 2011

At different times in American history, the Do Nothing label has been stuck to Republican politicians and even the entire party. Like the time, way back in the day, when Woodrow Wilson glued it on President Taft and his administration. The most famous use of the term was by Harry Truman in his successful campaign against Thomas Dewey in the 1948 presidential race. The phrase helped to keep “Give ‘Em Hell Harry” in the White House confounding all political predictions. More recently, Do Nothing has been pasted, wrongly, on the Republican members of the 112th Congress and, rightly, on Mitt Romney, the presidential wannabe.

In the past, Do Nothing was a pejorative, a brand to be avoided. After all, politicians who sat around doing nothing were worse than leeches on the body politic. But in today’s political culture, it is a strategy to be cultivated, a way to get your way risk free. No one exemplifies the new thinking better than Harry Reid. Not that Do Nothing is his entire game plan. The whirlwind of legislation he helped to push through the 111th Congress made the country’s head spin. Without question, he’s a bona fide dynamo when it comes to expanding government.

But, when it comes to paying the piper for all the cool new stuff, Harry is strictly Do Nothing. The Senate Majority Leader has ducked every opportunity to develop a detailed proposal to address the national debt. The last time his Senate even offered an annual budget was in March 2009 when the red ink was a demure $10 trillion. By the end of this year, it will tip the scale at almost $15 trillion.

How did it grow so big so fast? In the year of our last budget, the deficit, at $1.4 trillion, was the largest since 1945. 2010’s $1.3 trillion operating loss was the second largest in the same time period. According to White House numbers, the 2011 deficit will come in at $1.6 trillion, the largest in U.S. history. To put this into sharper focus, on only four occasions has the deficit breached 10 percent of GDP, during three wars and now.

With the debt rising like a surging tide, why has there been no budgets to stem it? These days, budgets require difficult choices with high degrees of political risk. To the politically driven, preaching from the Book of Platitudes is infinitely more preferable than thinning sacred cow herds. Kicking the can down the road beyond the next election is definitely the way to go. So, when absolutely pressed, Do Nothings choose to grandstand down to the wire, then erect a labyrinth of smoke and mirrors and declare victory.

Where does this leave us?  Pretty much left out. The ridiculous debt ceiling agreement just inked by Obama is a perfect example. The many commentators currently mired in the weeds of speculation about the political winners and losers of the deal are missing the big picture. First, there’s so little substance to the terms of the agreement that it’s no deal at all. Second, we’re all losers. The whole episode is an international embarrassment to the people of this country. Rather than coming to grips with a crippling debt of their own creation, our politicians brought us to the brink of disaster with political posturing. And in their wake, the only thing that changed is the growing crisis.

Why don’t the Republicans, and specifically the Tea Partiers, deserve the blame here as well? For starters, they have offered several plans for dealing with the debt. Granted, each of them is flawed, but the Democrats refused either to open negotiations or counter with equally detailed versions. More than that, if it weren’t for the unseemly behavior of Reid’s Party and their monster pieces of legislation, there wouldn’t be a Tea Party. The baggers are a response to what’s wrong with the current bunch of ruling Democrats.

During last fall’s Lame Duck Congress, Reid refused to raise the debt limit even though he had the votes to extend it into 2013. His motivation was purely political. He wanted Republicans to “have some kind of a buy-in on the debt”, which is double talk for taking some of the blame. Of course, that wasn’t his approach twelve months earlier when the Democrat-controlled Congress upped the limit on a strictly partisan vote. But, back then, Republicans were effectively without power, putting them out of blame’s reach as well. So, they weren’t much use to the Senate Majority Leader.

Will the debt crisis ever be solved? Not by the Do Nothings. Small people create big problems, but they rarely solve them. It’s time to elect some big people for a change.

See you on the left-side.

Posted in On the Left Side