Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Running for office and from responsibility

On Monday afternoon, after a horrific spectacle at the Washington Navy Yard, the President took the opportunity to tout his economic record before a bunch of hand picked lapdogs on the South Court of the White House. His remarks were designed to "celebrate" the five year anniversary of the financial meltdown - that "anniversary" could have been held at any time. But this president has no sense of proportion. I have taken eight comments out of the President banal yammerings and added some commentary. What Obama seems to fail to get is that compromise takes two sides working together.  The genius of the American political system is the design - it take a broad consensus to move things forward.   In the world of this President he believes that he preempts anything.  All that within a spectacle over the last several weeks - where his indecision on an international issue has worked to make the situation considerably worse.   But again, this President, does not care.  Commentary described the speech thusly - "After the spectacle of indecision and retreat that was his Syria policy in the last month, and a year in which he proved again that he hasn’t the leadership skills to broker a deal with anyone but his sycophants, all Obama has left for us is anger at his political foes and a reflexive need to blame them for all of the country’s woes and his own failures." That is harsh but accurate.

The President's remarks came just a day before the 228th anniversary of the last day of the Constitutional convention. One of the blogs I read posted remarks from President Coolidge on the importance of the Constitution

"It is axiomatic that our country can not stand still. It would seem to be perfectly plain from recent events that it is determined to go forward. But it wants no pretenses, it wants no vagaries. It is determined to advance in an orderly, sound and common-sense way. It does not propose to abandon the theory of the Declaration that the people have inalienable rights which no majority and no power of government can destroy. It does not propose to abandon the practice of the Constitution that provides for the protection of these rights. It believes that within these limitations, which are imposed not by the fiat of man but by the law of the Creator, self-government is just and wise. It is convinced that it will be impossible for the people to provide their own government unless they continue to own their own property. These are the very foundations of America" -
The President began by a hearty back pat -

"By the time I took the oath of office, the economy was shrinking by an annual rate of more than 8 percent. Our businesses were shedding 800,000 jobs each month. It was a perfect storm that would rob millions of Americans of jobs and homes and savings that they had worked a lifetime to build. And it also laid bare the long erosion of a middle class that, for more than a decade, has had to work harder and harder just to keep up."

From my perspective the President fails to consider what the causes of these horrible situations. A good many of them are attributable to governmental policies and as importantly, many of them remain unimproved.   As Coolidge suggested a good part of the role of government is to understand when its actions can be ineffective.
He went on to give the now obligatory "stories" of real people.
And so those are the stories that guided everything we've done.
President Reagan was one of the first to use this technique and at the time many people said it was a way to show the president actually lived in the real world.   But stories like the ones the president used are not a substitute for sound judgment on policy.

Then he offered himself some more back pats....
And what all this means is we've cleared away the rubble from the financial crisis and we've begun to lay a new foundation for economic growth and prosperity. 
If this is recovery I would hate to see what a slowdown is to him.  This recovery still has substantial unemployment and mediocre economic growth.   Many economists would argue that part of the reason for that performance is the policies he adopted, some of which were continuations of the previous administration.

He then goes on to make his pitch -
We need to grow faster.  We need more good-paying jobs.  We need more broad-based prosperity.  We need more ladders of opportunity for people who are currently poor but want to get into the middle class.
Indeed we do.  But he then indicates (as he did during the last campaign) that government is the engine of growth.
The budget Congress passes will determine whether we can hire more workers to upgrade our transportation and communications networks, or fund the kinds of research and development that have always kept America on the cutting edge.  So what happens here in Washington makes a difference.  What happens up on Capitol Hill is going to help determine not only the pace of our growth, but also the quality of jobs, the quality of opportunity for this generation and future generations. 
The logic he uses here is utter nonsense.   By reducing the influence of government in our economy - growth is likely to recover.  But his sole definition of a sound recovery is one where government is allowed to grow significantly.

Then he goes into his deflective mode (what some have called the Bart Simpson theory of political responsibility) -
Up until now, Republicans have argued that these cuts are necessary in the name of fiscal responsibility.  But our deficits are now falling at the fastest rate since the end of World War II.  I want to repeat that.  Our deficits are going down faster than any time since before I was born.  (Applause.)  By the end of this year, we will have cut our deficits by more than half since I took office.

Now, keep in mind, initially, the whole argument was we’re going to do this because we want to reduce our debt.  That doesn’t seem to be the focus now.  Now the focus is on Obamacare. So let’s put this in perspective.  The Affordable Care Act has been the law for three and a half years now.  It passed both houses of Congress.  The Supreme Court ruled it constitutional.  It was an issue in last year’s election and the candidate who called for repeal lost.  (Applause.)  Republicans in the House have tried to repeal or sabotage it about 40 times.  They’ve failed every time.
There are so many things in these two paragraphs it is almost hard to know where to begin.   Deficits are going down not because of economic growth - which is one way to accomplish that - but because of the sequester and because the Congress has wisely (or politically - and I do not think it makes any difference) understood that spending more does not grow the economy.   The ACA is one of those rare instances in policy where no member of the opposition joined in supporting it.   It is beginning to unravel - or why would the President delay its implementation until after the 2014 elections; why would the AFL (one of the President's most loyal allies) ask that the law be significantly revised.   While the House has voted 40 times to repeal Obamacare (I am not sure that the number is correct but for the moment consider that it is true) the Senate has not passed a budget for a number of years.   They have simply bottled up any serious discussion of any issue.   At this point the President's prized enactment is supported by about 4 Americans in 10.
He then gets to the meat of his argument - 
Meanwhile, the law has already helped millions of Americans -- young people who were able to stay on their parents’ plan up until the age of 26; seniors who are getting additional discounts on their prescription drugs; ordinary families and small businesses that are getting rebates from insurance companies because now insurance companies have to actually spend money on people's care instead of on administrative costs and CEO bonuses.
A lot of the horror stories that were predicted about how this was going to shoot rates way up and there were going to be death panels and all that stuff -- none of that stuff has happened.  And in two weeks, the Affordable Care Act is going to help millions more people.  And there's no serious evidence that the law -- which has helped to keep down the rise in health care costs to their lowest level in 50 years -- is holding back economic growth. 
The claims of the effects of a law, which has not been implemented and which the President himself has arbitrarily moved to not enforce, are not clear.   There may well be some short term effects that may seem to be positive.  At the same time numerous employers are opting to reduce the number of hours for their employees to assure that they are not required to pay for the significant unfunded mandates in the new law. Most commentators suggest that the long term costs of this administrative monstrosity will not be positive for the health care system nor for the economy.

From my perspective there are two takeaways from this speech.   This president, more than any in history, considers his powers to be over the other two branches - he has shown no willingness or even ability to sit down with his opponents on a substantive basis and begin to work the nation out of political gridlock.   Second, with his imperial sense, he does not seem to recognize that on a day when a national tragedy happened within about 20 of blocks of his office that the time for political rhetoric should be delayed.

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