Thursday, February 21, 2013

Saint Obama Stylites

The President laid out the facts--as he sees them--on the Sequester the other day, why it was put into law, who did it, and what the consequences will be if it actually takes place:
Now, Congress, back in 2011, also passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach that $4 trillion goal, about a trillion dollars of additional, arbitrary budget cuts would start to take effect this year. And by the way, the whole design of these arbitrary cuts was to make them so unattractive and unappealing that Democrats and Republicans would actually get together and find a good compromise of sensible cuts as well as closing tax loopholes and so forth. And so this was all designed to say we can't do these bad cuts; let’s do something smarter. That was the whole point of this so-called sequestration.

Unfortunately, Congress didn’t compromise. They haven't come together and done their jobs, and so as a consequence, we've got these automatic, brutal spending cuts that are poised to happen next Friday...

So these cuts are not smart. They are not fair. They will hurt our economy. They will add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls. This is not an abstraction -- people will lose their jobs. The unemployment rate might tick up again.
And he's right about the "why": the Sequester was supposed to be a threat, something that neither Party would ever allow to happen. Of course, this was all his idea, not that of Congress. He leaves that part out. And in that regard, it wasn't just Congress who was supposed to compromise, it was also the White House.

As to the consequences, Obama's take is arguable, to say the least. But let's allow that the consequences would be as Obama outlines. The way to avoid them is simple: compromise. Obama lays out what he means in this regard, casting himself as the Patron Saint of Compromise:
Now, for two years, I’ve offered a balanced approach to deficit reduction that would prevent these harmful cuts. I outlined it again last week at the State of the Union. I am willing to cut more spending that we don’t need, get rid of programs that aren’t working. I’ve laid out specific reforms to our entitlement programs that can achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms that were proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission. I’m willing to save hundreds of billions of dollars by enacting comprehensive tax reform that gets rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well off and well connected, without raising tax rates.

I believe such a balanced approach that combines tax reform with some additional spending reforms, done in a smart, thoughtful way is the best way to finish the job of deficit reduction and avoid these cuts once and for all that could hurt our economy, slow our recovery, put people out of work. And most Americans agree with me.
Who could oppose such a thoughtful plan? Only people who want to punish the middle class, apparently:
And I know that Republicans have proposed some ideas, too. I have to say, though, that so far at least the ideas that the Republicans have proposed ask nothing of the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations, so the burden is all on first responders or seniors or middle-class families. They double down, in fact, on the harsh, harmful cuts that I’ve outlined. They slash Medicare and investments that create good, middle-class jobs. And so far at least what they’ve expressed is a preference where they’d rather have these cuts go into effect than close a single tax loophole for the wealthiest Americans. Not one.

Well, that’s not balanced. That would be like Democrats saying we have to close our deficits without any spending cuts whatsoever. It’s all taxes. That's not the position Democrats have taken. That's certainly not the position I’ve taken. It’s wrong to ask the middle class to bear the full burden of deficit reduction. And that’s why I will not sign a plan that harms the middle class.
Note the illogic of the shift: because Republicans don't want to increase taxes on the wealthy or on big corporations, they want to harm the middle class. It's nonsensical thinking, it's disingenuous, it's outright fabrication. But Obama is getting away with it, by and large. And why? Because he's not getting called on it.

Less than two months ago, the President got a "compromise" similar to what he's asking for now. Remember the Fiscal Cliff deal? That "compromise" increased taxes on the wealthy, extended unemployment benefits, and kept in place all kinds of tax credits and loopholes for various special interests, most of whom represent the wealthy and big corporations! Who put that stuff in there? Democrats. Spending cuts? Never happened. In fact, the Fiscal Cliff compromise mandated more spending, not less.

That's what Obama means by a "balanced plan": tax the wealthy and spend the money now, while shirking responsibility for the debt on to the next guy. How can this go unchallenged? Well, there's the simple favoritism shown by the media for a liberal President. But it's more than that. Obama really is being treated as some sort of pillar-saint.

The most famous of the pillar-saints--the Stylites--is St. Simeon Stylites, of course, who was also the first to live such a life. Around 423, near Aleppo, Syria, Simeon climbed a pillar he found among some ruins in order to get away from everyday life, pledging to remain there until his death (he actually switched pillars a few times, though). His stay there lasted nearly forty years.

People made pilgrimages to see him, to pray with him, to ask for his prayers, and to seek his advice. He was venerated because he put himself above the mundane activities of daily life to focus on living a wholly austere life. So it is with Obama, for much of the public and the media: they truly believe he represents something different, that he occupies a special place above the fray and thus when he speaks it is with an untainted voice.

One of the best features of the American Republic is--in my opinion--the difficulty in securing the position Obama seems to have now secured. Only a couple of past Presidents enjoyed such a position, where the majority of the population believed them to be above politics, believed them to be concerned only with the welfare of the nation, believed their opinions to be more or less infallible. It is certainly possible for this to be a momentary benefit in certain circumstances, but usually it's a bad thing, a dangerous thing. That is certainly the case right now, as the country has amassed a debt of historic proportions, precisely because the current President has largely gotten his way for over four years.

And this veneration of the man only makes matters worse, as it appears he is buying in to his own act. I think Obama may actually believe he's being reasonable, may actually believe he's offering a compromise. I'd actually prefer it if he knew he was being dishonest.

Cheers, all.

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