Presidents of the United States sit in a unique political position. Unlike their contemporaries on Capitol Hill, presidents have a national constituency. Nancy Pelosi can continue getting elected as the representative of California’s 8th Congressional District because she embodies the values of that far left constituency. Presidential candidates, on the other hand, have to appeal to a much broader electorate.
It is for this reason that President Obama has been forced to moderate somewhat since the Republican victories in November. His most deeply felt convictions pull him in one direction, decisively left. But another conviction restrains him, the desire for re-election. The results of 2010, which Obama has acknowledged as a “shellacking,” surely affected his choice to compromise with House Republicans on an extension of present tax rates. It wasn’t much of a compromise. But it was far more than Obama’s left-wing base would have conceded.
Arianna Huffington reminded readers of this Wednesday. Bemoaning “the incredible shrinking budget,” Huffington despaired over the current debate’s focus on, not whether to spend, but how much spending to cut.
And here we are in the middle of another budget “debate” in which the only choices being offered are largely confined to which programs in the non-military discretionary budget are going to be cut and by how much. That means almost all the cuts are limited to a portion of the budget that makes up just over 12 percent of our spending.
There are two ways to look at that figure. One would be to realize how woefully inadequate the scope of potential cuts is. Huffington has the opposite perspective. She sees an effect upon the overall budget which will be in any case so small that we ought not cut anything.
It is here that she turns on Obama, blaming him for allowing the debate to become over how much to cut. Her rant reveals a stunning detachment from political and economic reality.
… curiously omitted from all this self-congratulatory talk about making “tough choices” is any mention that the president just gave away nearly $120 billion by extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich.
In fact, had the administration done the right thing in December, it would have had the public on its side. Only 26 percent favored extending the cuts for everybody, with 53 percent wanting them extended only for those making less than $250,000. But the public doesn’t make the rules for the debate. And so now our “tough choices” are limited to bad and worse.
The Left loves to cite polls as if popular opinion constitutes an argument. Of course 53% of people are going to be okay with taxing someone else, especially when they think they’ll benefit from the taxation. However, the operative question in the craft of public policy is not what the man on the street would do if asked in a rhetorical vacuum, but what is the best policy.
As an essential aside, it is worth pointing out that the classical liberal principles upon which our nation was founded do not advocate for a democracy in which 53% of the people can vote to raid a minority wealthier than they. Be that as it may, such plunder is also short-sighted.
“Slashing spending while the economy is still deeply depressed,” wrote Paul Krugman last week, “is a recipe for slower economic growth, which means lower tax receipts.” And, of course, that will mean (all together now) more “tough choices”!
It’s a vicious circle…
The truth is precisely opposite. Any “economic growth” tied to government spending is an illusion. Economic growth requires production, not redistribution. Whether that redistribution is from one sector of the economy to another through subsidy, or from later generations to ours through debt, it is fundamentally no different than taking money from one pocket and stuffing it in another. My wife is not “richer” for having raided my wallet. Huffington can be forgiven as a lemming. But Krugman is too smart to plead ignorance of such an elementary economic truth.
It is unlikely Obama’s heart has softened toward Austrian economics. However, he does warm to re-election prospects. For this reason, we can expect ongoing superficial moderation in his positions. His base, however, will remain as revolutionary as ever. Little more can be expected from people who reject the evidence of history and latch onto political and economic fantasy.