July 22, 2010
Obama's Failing PresidencyBy J.R. Dunn
Steven Thomma and Charles Krauthammer may disagree on everything else, but they do agree that Obama is a historical titan whose influence will echo across the rest of the century and beyond. Krauthammer looks upon this with foreboding, while Thomma, editorial writer for the McClatchy group ("TRUTH to POWER!") can't understand why we aren't all dropping to our knees weeping in gratitude.
While Obama's reputation may no longer be that of a demigod, it hasn't fallen very far among much of the country's political elite. In uptown Manhattan and within the Beltway, Obama is viewed as a mastermind, a political wizard who gets pretty much what he wants and accomplishes what he sets out to do. As evidence for this thesis, we're reminded that in his first eighteen months as president, Obama passed the stimulus, ObamaCare, and now a financial reform bill, a record unparalleled since FDR's legendary "Hundred Days." To Thomma, this means the coming of the millennium, a down payment on a pure socialist state that the left has been yearning for since the '30s. To Krauthammer, it represents a terrible threat to every aspect of American well-being.
Neither appears to have considered the possibility of complete failure. It seems to me that a string of failed programs will have a slightly different historical impact from what Krauthammer and Thomma appear to be expecting.
Both conclusions are reflections of the Beltway mentality, in which all that matters is process. If the bill is passed, that's what counts. Results and consequences exist in a totally different dimension, with no tangible connection to the inner-Beltway continuum. Once a bill is on the books, it stands as an accomplishment in and of itself, complete for all time, like a prehistoric stone obelisk left for future generations of peasants to gape at.
Compare this to the quotidian world in which the rest of us live. Suppose you take a car to the garage for repairs. Two days later, you pick it up, only to discover after rolling through a red light and nearly ending up underneath an eighteen-wheel semi, that the problem remains unfixed. When you return to the garage, the owner tells you that none of this matters, since he and his mechanics worked out the bill, wrote it down, and then voted on it.
What happens at the garage at that point is exactly what should happen on Capitol Hill at least once a year (and may in fact happen this November). But for the moment, let's simply use the garage metaphor as an analytical tool to examine Obama's "achievements."
The stimulus was supposed turn the economy around, limit unemployment to 8%, and prevent a deepening recession. It has accomplished nothing of the sort. The economy is effectively frozen, with business mesmerized by Obama's increasingly frenetic antics. Unemployment is officially above 10%, and in truth much higher. Though commentators keep insisting that we're not in for a double-dip recession, it's apparent to anyone with two eyes that the second slump actually kicked in at the end of Spring. The reasons for this aren't difficult for anybody apart from a government economist to work out. Much of the $860+ billion (simply trying to nail the exact number down is a chore in itself. I've found anything from $787 billion to $866 billion) was awarded to Obama's supporters in the financial industry and the unions, which automatically removed it from any productive use. The remnant was scattered across the country with no rational form of targeting, going to things like earmarks, environmental programs, and affirmative action projects. For all the effect it's had, that money may as well have been taken and tossed into the Marianas Trench. The sole thing that the stimulus succeeded in doing was to remove three-quarters of a trillion dollars from the working economy, where it could have been used for capitalization and hiring, and to pay down debts.
In the rest of the world, a large number of countries that attempted no such thing as a stimulus -- including Canada, much of Latin America, and much of Southern Asia -- are now back on their feet. Obama's response has been to beg the EU to increase its spending, more to act as a cover for his own actions than anything constructive. Angela Merkel, the EU's de facto economic head, quite rightly told him to take a hike.
That's a triumph? As Pyrrhus said after whipping the Romans at Heraclea, "Another such victory and we are undone!"
But Obama has plenty such victories rolling in. I wouldn't wade through the 2,600-pages of the financial reform bill even at gunpoint, but I don't have to. All I need to do is look at the title page featuring the names of the chief sponsors, Dodd and Frank. The Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act. This is the equivalent of the Capone-O'Bannion Crime-Control Bill. If any politicians are up to their necks in the chicanery that led to the latest crash, it's that pair. Frank's most recent paramour held a high position at Fannie Mae, while Dodd was snagging payoffs right and left. In a just world, they'd be in custody, not sponsoring bills.
Dodd-Frank is likely to carry on in crippling the economy where the stimulus left off, with its five hundred new regulations and complex bureaucracy extending down to the guy who sells toy robots out of a cart on the street corner. The effect of regulation and bureaucracy on business is so well-known as to have achieved the status of cliché. This bill has added a least another year to the recovery. But that won't bother Obama. Why should it?
So we come to ObamaCare, the program that, so we're told, will see him carried about in a solid gold sedan chair for the rest of his life by an eternally grateful populace. The sneak appointment of David Berwick to run the thing makes transparent a fact that was brought up continually and just as continually dismissed during the health care debate: that Obama wants a duplicate of the U.K. National Health Service, the sole British feature that he admires.
And that's an interesting development. Because, according to studies by British health care specialists, the NHS kills up to 95,000 patients a year through incompetence, mistakes, and accidents. This number is ten times the international per capita average. It is the highest in Europe, and twice that of the U.S., a nation with six times the population.
Since the NHS was established in 1948, hospital beds have dropped from over 800,000 to 160,000, while the number of bureaucrats has expanded to nine for each patient. Tales of patient abuse are a never-ending, almost a daily occurrence. A week ago, the Daily Mail featured a story about a young woman who entered an NHS hospital with excruciating head pain. Assuring her that it was merely a headache, the staff dumped her in a ward. It was actually a rare brain infection. When she began screaming uncontrollably as her brain was crushed against the inside of her skull, the staff tied her to a bed and left her. The next time they checked, she was dead.
Then we have the Liverpool Care Pathway or LCP, a method of end-of-life treatment in which any given doctor decides whether a person is dying or not, and then orders all food and water withheld -- the Terri Schiavo treatment -- along with heavy sedation. Hundreds have died from mistaken LCP diagnoses, including people suffering from such terminal ailments as broken legs, gastritis, and skin infections. I seem to recall a certain lady mentioning "death panels" at some point or other.
Just last week, the NHS ran into a "cash flow" problem (a neat trick with a budget of nearly $100 billion a year). The "trusts" which control hospital operations ran out of funds, leaving the hospitals high and dry. Patients were abandoned on operating tables for hours. Others scheduled for procedures were sent home. Ward patients were denied necessary drugs and painkillers. (The same thing happened in New South Wales in 2008, almost driving the state's health care system -- also based on the NHS -- to collapse. This episode was kept very quiet...so quiet that no single reference to it was made in the American media.)
That's what's coming to us with ObamaCare. Oh yeah -- the number of accidental deaths under such circumstances will rise to the vicinity of 450,000. This won't simply increase Obama's popularity -- it will raise him to the level of legend. The problem is that the legend will comprise equal parts Bernard Madoff, Charles Manson, and Ludwig, Mad King of Bavaria.
With luck, Obama's halcyon days will end this November 2. I say "with luck" because the GOP will have very little to do with it. (Last week, John Boehner and John Cornyn revealed that the GOP campaign will set aside such dull issues as the economy and immigration to focus on the emotionally gripping topic of the deficit. With Republicans like these, who needs Democrats?) But at that point, the circus will stop. Having refused to commit themselves to a budget, the Dems will have no recourse to such tricks as "reconciliation," which can be used only in conjunction with budget bills. So the lame duck session will truly be lame. When Congress reconvenes in January, Obama will see how it feels to stare failure in the face.
Curiously, Obama is following his model, Franklin D. Roosevelt, here as in everything else. The "FDR as national savior" image is almost pure fabrication. The NRA didn't work. The AAA didn't work. The PWA, WPA, and the CCC provided only make-work jobs at the lowest economic level. FDR's insistence on raising taxes led to another collapse late in 1937. Though not often mentioned, the Great Depression was also a double-dipper. (See Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism and Amity Shlaes' The Forgotten Man for details.)
Only three months later, Hitler saved FDR's bacon at Munich. By making it clear (to everybody but Neville "Peace in our Time" Chamberlain, anyway) that he was out to devour Europe and would be stopped by nothing short of war, Hitler broke the economic logjam. States began rearming, the tariff barriers dropped, and in a short time, the Depression began to ebb. It was the response to Hitler, not the Depression programs, that rescued Roosevelt's reputation.
So will Ahmadinejad save Obama? Stranger things have happened. But I have my doubts. When push came to shove, FDR turned out to be a warrior, the exact kind of leader the situation demanded. The man humiliated by the Depression had what it took to become a great warlord. Now, I may be wrong, but I don't think even the McClatchy papers would claim any such thing for Obama.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker and editor of the forthcoming Military Thinker.