Ideal and re­al­ity: The pres­i­dency at 5 months

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Tony Blank­ley

Two weeks ago, both David Broder, The Wash­ing­ton Post’s ven­er­a­ble and au­thor­i­ta­tive po­lit­i­cal voice, and Chuck Todd, NBC’s new im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal voice, de­clared Pres­i­dent Obama’s hon­ey­moon over.

Al­though al­most ev­ery new Amer­i­can pres­i­dency is launched with re­newed hope and op­ti­mism for both the pres­i­dent and the na­tion (Abra­ham Lin­coln’s be­ing a con­spic­u­ous ex­cep­tion in 1861) a time comes when the pub­lic and the pres­i­dent’s party both be­gin to as­sess whether had they made the right choice.

Are the pub­lic’s ex­pec­ta­tions of the new pres­i­dent be­ing met? Are the many prom­ises ev­ery can­di­date for pres­i­dent makes — and his ap­par­ent per­sonal at­tributes — hang­ing to­gether and beginning to form a po­ten­tially co­her­ent and suc­cess­ful ad­min­is­tra­tion of gov­ern­ment?

It is a com­mon­place of Wash­ing­ton pol­i­tics that it is not news when the other party at­tacks, but it is note­wor­thy when there is op­po­si­tion within a pres­i­dent’s own party.

Last week, on two of his three ma­jor do­mes­tic leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tives — health pol­icy and fi­nan­cial re-reg­u­la­tion — strong Demo­cratic Party con­gres­sional doubts (and, on some im­por­tant de­tails, op­po­si­tion) emerged.

Abroad, the ex­traor­di­nary and heroic ris­ing of the Ira­nian peo­ple and the pre­dictable but deeply dis­con­cert­ing nu­clear provo­ca­tion of the North Korean regime are beginning the process of col­or­ing in the pub­lic pic­ture of the pres­i­dent’s for­eign-pol­icy meth­ods and ef­fec­tive­ness. Last week, pub­lic ex­pec­ta­tions and early pres­i­den­tial per­for­mance be­gan to sep­a­rate a lit­tle.

I don’t think the Obama team would con­tra­dict me if I sug­gested that at the heart of Mr. Obama’s winning cam­paign was his im­age as a pro­gres­sive, ide­al­is­tic, highly in­tel­li­gent and master­fully com­pe­tent man. Hopes for a “post-racial” so­ci­ety also mo­ti­vated votes for Mr. Obama from both Democrats and Repub­li­cans. Th­ese im­ages were pro­jected by the cam­paign to con­trast (in their view) with the in­cum­bent Repub­li­can pres­i­dent.

Dur­ing his first months as pres­i­dent, Mr. Obama dis­ap­pointed many of his most in­tense sup­port­ers on the left by backpedal­ing on war, civil lib­er­ties and trans­parency-re­lated is­sues, while Repub­li­can op­po­si­tion in­creased as he made his first Supreme Court nom­i­na­tion on an iden­tity-poli- tics ba­sis and ad­vanced his in­tru­sive in­dus­trial and reg­u­la­tory poli­cies.

His early pre­dic­tions of un­em­ploy­ment rates have sadly been breached by events as the in­ter­est rates on Trea­sury notes needed to fi­nance the pres­i­dent’s pro­posed deficits are go­ing up steadily — thus driv­ing up mort­gage rates and driv­ing down hous­ing re­cov­ery.

Those same left-of-cen­ter sup­port­ers two weeks ago were very dis­ap­pointed with what they see as his ex­ces­sive so­lic­i­tude to big Wall Street in­ter­ests in his fi­nan­cial dereg­u­la­tion pro­posal — while the fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions that con­trib­uted hand­somely to his cam­paign see the pro­posed reg­u­la­tions as too bur­den­some and bad for a grow­ing econ­omy.

Mr. Obama re­sponded to the Ira­nian regime’s mur­der­ous sup­pres­sion of its pub­lic with a de­fen­si­ble (al­though I strongly dis­agree with it) but Kissin­ge­rian realpoli­tik cal­cu­la­tion. The pur­ported logic of that po­si­tion sits un­easily on the con­science of many of his lib­eral sup­port­ers — who pre­vi­ously had heard the pres­i­dent’s high moral and ide­al­is­tic tone — and many con­ser­va­tives as well.

It is an un­nat­u­ral and prob­a­bly un­use­ful po­lit­i­cal act when a lib­eral Demo­cratic White House cites the ap­proval of its his­toric for­eign-pol­icy bete noire — Henry A. Kissinger — as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the pres­i­dent’s pol­icy plays on Iran.

But at the crux of the po­lit­i­cal con­ster­na­tions two weeks ago was the hard-to-avoid im­pli­ca­tion that the pres­i­dent’s do­mes­tic agenda — par­tic­u­larly his sig­na­ture health pol­icy plans (which also have been the Demo­cratic Party’s sig­na­ture do­mes­tic is­sue ) — was run­ning head­long into both eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally in­tol­er­a­ble deficits and na­tional debt ac­cu­mu­la­tion.

The Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice’s pre­lim­i­nary cost and deficit cal­cu­la­tions of the pres­i­dent’s over­all bud­get and spe­cific health pro­pos­als have sent tremors through the Demo­cratic Party es­tab­lish­ment — and the White House is feel­ing the vi­bra­tions.

Not count­ing the es­ti­mated $1.6 tril­lion 10-year cost for part of the pres­i­dent’s pro­posed health pol­icy changes, the CBO pre­dicts that the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bud­get pro­posal would in­crease the na­tional debt by $9.3 tril­lion over 10 years — al­most twice the to­tal na­tional debt from Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton to Ge­orge W. Bush. Even the pres­i­dent’s own Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get di­rec­tor, Peter R. Orszag, has stated that a con­tin­ued deficit over 3.5 per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP) is “un­sus­tain­able.” (The pres­i­dent’s bud­get is more than 4 per­cent.)

More­over, to ad­vance the pres­i­dent’s cli­mate-change leg­is­la­tion (the third of his big three leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tives) Rep. Henry A. Wax­man, chair­man of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, has had to cut way back on its ear­lyyears rev­enue-rais­ing pro­vi­sions in or­der to in­duce more sup­port among Demo­cratic con­gress­men — thus fur­ther in­creas­ing fu­ture deficits be­yond even the cur­rent bud­get pro­posal.

Though the pres­i­dent re­mains broadly ad­mired, with his per­sonal-ap­proval polling num­bers at about 60 per­cent, his pol­icy pro­pos­als are be­com­ing less pop­u­lar with the pub­lic as they are emerg­ing in more de­tail. And as even those poli­cies that are pop­u­lar ap­pear to be un­af­ford­able, the pres­i­dent’s Demo­cratic sen­a­to­rial al­lies are fo­cus­ing more on their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as se­na­tors — and less on their party loy­al­ties to a Demo­cratic pres­i­dent.

Al­though the pres­i­dent is looking some­what in­con­sis­tent and less ef­fec­tive while his poli­cies are looking less plau­si­ble, it’s early, and leg­isla­tive suc­cess may yet be the pres­i­dent’s this sea­son. But it is not too early for Demo­cratic Party nerves and their end­ing of the pres­i­den­tial hon­ey­moon.

Tony Blank­ley is the au­thor of “Amer­i­can Grit: What It Will Take to Sur­vive and Win in the 21st Cen­tury” and ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent for global af­fairs of the Edel­man pub­lic re­la­tions firm in Wash­ing­ton.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.