March 13, 2009
The O is for OverratedBy Richard Baehr
In his campaign for the Presidency, candidate Barack Obama and his minions relied on several key messages:
Experience, and in particular executive experience, was not much discussed, since Obama had less of both than any candidate for President in history. And Obama also ran from his public voting record and history of associations (Reverend Wright, Bill Ayers, Rashid Khalidi, Tony Rezko) that suggested he would be far more to the left than any President in history. Rather the message was that he would be bi-partisan, moderate, and post-racial.
We have now seen the President and his team in action, and the lack of executive experience seems to be a real drawback. The fiasco with British Prime Minister Brown's visit may reflect more than the President's fatigue after going through all those papers on his desk. The Administration's vetting process for high level positions was weak and many posts remain unfilled, especially at Treasury, arguably the most critical Cabinet Department at the moment.
Investors remain baffled as to how the Administration plans to address the banking industry. The President's prior voting record (the most liberal of any Senator's) seems to have been a reliable guide as to how far left the President wants to move the country (as Rahm Emanuel has said: a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, and in fact offers an opportunity.) On the other hand, Obama remains unflappable, at least on camera.
In one area, Obama as the great communicator, a little bit of the glow is gone. For it turns out that while there is only one O in teleprompter, without this trusted device, we might not have the Big O in the White House (apologies to Oscar Robertson). It is now coming out (though not in the New York Times or Washington Post) two years too late, that underlying the gifted public speaker iconography is a machine. Our President has a dependency, and it is not on tobacco products. The real "jones" is for a teleprompter.
No President is known to have used such a device at press conferences before, so that his staff could funnel facts and figures to him ("my, how encyclopedic he is with information!"). No President or Presidential candidate has ever been as inseparable from the device every time he makes a speech. Barack Obama's rhetorical gifts, which delivered chills up Chris Matthews' leg, and inspired Joe Klein to paroxysms of delight during his recent address to a joint session of Congress, appears to be the ability to "deliver" a speech, written by others and printed out for him to read. For a few months, what registered as newsworthy for the legions of Obama media flacks, was whether he would get to keep his cherished blackberry in the White House. But it was always, it seems, the teleprompter that really ruled.
In but seven short weeks, the aura of greatness (if not transcendence) has all but withered away from our new President, due to the continued and it appears, worsening economic and financial turmoil. The President can continue to start every sentence with we "inherited" this or that problem from the prior administration, or repeat the mantra of the "failed policies" of the last 8 years, but in 7 weeks since his Inauguration, the nation has shed well over a million jobs. Americans who lose their jobs, are less interested in a blame game and much more in solutions that work, and get them back to work. Similarly, stoking a populist zeal to strike back at the evil Wall Street financial crowd may serve for a period of time to divert attention from the success or failure of Obama's own programs, but if all the bailouts and stimuli don't succeed in reversing the economic decline, it is the present administration that will have to answer for its failures.
Since his election on November 4th, an event we were told that would inspire Americans with hope for change (better times), more than 2.5 million jobs have been lost. The President's words, whether read (almost all the time) or delivered extemporaneously (very rare) seem to have done nothing to inspire the confidence needed for businesses and consumers to change behavior and begin to stem the job losses. In fact it can be argued that by talking down the American economy for two years (even while it was still growing) and creating fear, Obama and other Democratic contenders for the Oval office, may have helped turn many Americans from free spenders to very cautious savers. That is not helping car sales, home sales, retail sales or business inventory levels. It is why GDP is shrinking so rapidly. But all that depressing talk undoubtedly helped get Obama elected and Democrats to expand their control of the House and Senate.
Economists consider Obama a dismal failure so far. They think even worse of his tax cheating Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, whose Department is so undermanned, it fails to answer the phone at times. Economists give far higher grades to the performance of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who if memory serves, was appointed by former President George W. Bush.
The stock market, which bets on futures, has dropped more than 15% in 50 days of the Obama administration (it is down 25% since his Election Day victory). The Obama administration's record of wealth destruction is far beyond that of any other President in his first 50 days. Forget the Lincoln and FDR comparisons. The market rallied nearly 80% in the first 7 weeks under FDR, and is down 16% (even counting Tuesday's big rally) in the first 50 days under President Obama. This is a comparison of inspiration versus desperation.
We have had a frenetic pace in the first months of the new administration. The Obama media machine has broadcast its success in early passage of the $800 billion "stimulus" bill, designed to create or save anywhere from 3 to 4 million jobs (depending on the particular day of the press release). That bill was rushed through Congress, ostensibly because every day lost, was a day when many more American jobs were shed. The reality, it turned out, was that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needed to catch a flight to Rome for a taxpayer-funded Congressional junket. The bill was then left unsigned by President Obama for 4 days, as he flew back for his own junket to Chicago, to shoot some hoops with friends, dine out with the wife, and watch the NBA All Star game.
The signing ceremony and initial release of funds actually waited until Obama could do the honors at a campaign style event in a swing state the next week. At the rate of job losses every day in February, the signing delay occurred while nearly 100,000 more American jobs were shed. So did the bill need to get passed all that quickly or not?
Could a bit more time have been taken, even if inconvenient for both the Speaker and the President, to produce a better bill in Congress -- one focused more on job creation, especially among those groups with high unemployment rates, and less on pet priorities of liberal interest groups, particularly those of teachers' unions, environmental groups, and those who favor more health care spending?
The same hypocrisy is associated with the President's (no ceremony for this one) signing of the $410 billion omnibus spending bill on Wednesday. The candidate who promised to scour the budget line by line to eliminate waste, decided that the 8,000 plus earmarks in the Omnibus bill were OK this time. (but maybe not next time). The Congressional appropriators, who raised spending in pretty much all areas from baseline plus 3% to baseline plus 8%, got a pass on that one too from President Obama. After all, what are a few tens of billions of new money to be spent (among friends), that the Treasury does not have?
The President's ten year budget proposals also scored far higher on hype and hypocrisy than reality. The supposed $2 trillion in "savings" come in two major area: tax increases, and counting as savings any reduction in spending in Iraq over the next ten years as compared to the higher spending level in that country in federal fiscal year 2008 ( the year of the surge). Does it make sense to assume a "surge" level of spending for ten years as a baseline?
The President's shills on Capitol Hill, Geithner and Budget Director Peter Orszag, defended this new budget math with a straight face, only further diminishing them as straight shooters of the new transparency. The projected budget deficit -- falling to "only" $500 billion a year in 2013, and only 3% of GDP in ten years, requires sizable tax increases not only on the affluent, but on energy producers and corporate users from the proposed cap and trade program (who would pass their higher costs on to all consumers), and on 4% per year growth in real GDP, a level not reached on a consistent basis for decades.
If the true deficit turns out to be a trillion dollars a year or much higher for years to come, who will buy all that new government paper: $150 billion a month in new debt for 2009, and $100 billion or more in net new debt each month in the next few years? Will China buy Treasury paper paying 2.8% for 10 years, or 3.5% for 30 years? These rates reflect investors' flight to "quality" (in their wholesale abandonment of stocks), and very relaxed monetary policy since the credit crisis began. Low interest rates are assumed to remain that way in Obama's ten year budget projections, but that too may be unrealistic.
There has been grumbling even among some Democrats that Obama is trying to do too much to soon, and that parts of his program (especially the enormous cap and trade tax) may destroy jobs that his stimulus plan tries to create.
As pointed out in an earlier article, Obama has a lot of political power at the moment, with big majorities in both the House and Senate, and is using it to steamroller through what he and the hard left of the Democratic Party have always wanted. Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman, Maxine Waters, Ted Kennedy, Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders are having their day at the beach.
The President had another campaign style event in another swing state (Ohio) last week that is revealing. On a day when the new jobless numbers were released (651,000 jobs lost in February, unemployment up to 8.1%), Obama jetted off to take credit for saving the jobs of 27 Columbus, Ohio police recruits, whose pay (for only one year, it turns out) will come from stimulus funds. If the February pace holds, the economy would have shed almost 1,000 times as many jobs that day as were saved for the police recruits. Is it unfair to mention the carbon footprint of the President jetting to Ohio for this event to celebrate so small an achievement, or the cost of police protection by the local force, whose budget is so strained it needed stimulus money to pay the 27 new members of the force? The campaign event worked to help "win" the daily news cycle for Obama, and enable the ever friendly nightly new anchors to speak both of job losses (Bush's fault) , but also job gains (credit to Obama).
Making the locals pay for Obama public events, is of course, nothing new. In Chicago, the near $ 2 million bill for providing security for Obama's Election night party in Grant Park was never paid by the Obama campaign. A typical victory party in a hotel would have been far less demanding on and costly for the City of Chicago.
The sad reality is that if you are a narcissist in chief, and prefer campaigning to governing, you need to speak before large crowds all the time. Obama has promised to hit the road every week to meet the people of this great country. You can guess in which swing states he will find them. In July, as the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, Obama demanded an outdoor event while visiting Germany, and then spoke to 200,000 Germans, assuring them that his victory would mean the oceans would stop rising, and the earth would start healing. He decided to have his nomination acceptance speech outdoors in a football stadium in Denver, with 80,000 on hand, speaking in front of a backdrop of fake Roman columns. Add Grant Park on Election Night to the mega event list.
Oprah Winfrey, whose support for Obama last year might have been critical in his winning the nomination, helping move perhaps a million or more women voters in the primaries and caucuses away from Hillary Clinton and to Obama, was seen leaving the Denver event in August, almost unable to walk, overcome with emotion, and for once, speechless. Speechless will be one word that will never be used to describe our current President. Obama needs to talk, and for crowds to cheer him. As narcissist in chief, Obama, much like Bill Clinton, flourishes in the public setting with the adoring crowd cheering, laying out a stream of fluent prose that he is reading.
In the teleprompter we trust, could be the motto of this Administration.
The jury is still out on whether we can trust Obama to do the job to which he is elected, which involves far more than speechmaking So far, we see more of a permanent campaign than a functioning Executive. If that pattern continues, there will be more Americans over time who will conclude that the O in Obama is for overrated.
Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.
Illustration by Big Fur Hat of iOwnTheWorld