All Politics, No Principles

In separate Associated Press reports, President Obama was said to be "mulling options to boost job growth" and "considering a range of ideas" for dealing with Afghanistan. The president seems to spend a great deal of his time these days mulling and considering, and one has to ask why. As an indecisive president mulls and considers, the unemployment rate approaches 10% and casualties in Afghanistan have risen to an all-time high.

It would seem that a commander-in-chief, locked in a momentous war with extremists who wish to destroy this country, would already have a clear idea as to his general course of action. If one's overriding principle were to defend the nation against future attacks, one would wish to deny safe-havens to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. Afghanistan presents a clear and present danger in this regard, and one would expect the president to take the necessary action, to rally our troops and our allies, and to exert leadership in defending his course of action, no matter how unpopular with his political base. Instead, Obama is reportedly considering options ranging from pulling out entirely or scaling back to sending in 40,000 additional troops. The president has the best intelligence sources in the world and the finest military commanders available.

How is it possible that, now a year after his election, he does not have a clue as to what to do in Afghanistan? The only answer is that he is vacillating because he is unsure which way the political winds are blowing. Once the political calculation has been made, the president will probably appear before Congress and announce a decisive course of action. Whether or not that course of action is right for the country, whether or not it protects us against future attacks, and whether or not it safeguards the lives of our troops and those of our allies appears to be entirely irrelevant.

In a separate report appearing on the same day, the president is said to be mulling options for job growth. Forgive me, but I though that the $878 billion stimulus spending bill passed in the spring was going to create three to four million "shovel-ready" jobs. How many times did the president repeat this promise of millions of jobs and a rapid recovery? The president flew around the country to plants in St. Louis and police academies in Ohio boasting that he had "saved or created" jobs. Yet the stimulus spending bill has failed just as appallingly as the president's all-out push for the 2016 Olympics.

And what are the job-boosting ideas he now has in mind? Extending unemployment insurance, extending COBRA tax credits, and extending tax credits for first-time home buyers. All of these welfare-like programs are already in place and have been for months, yet unemployment continues to rise and is predicted to rise above 10% and remain above 10% until the end of 2010. None of these programs creates jobs-they only transfer funds via taxation from those who still have jobs to those who do not. Yet as taxes and fees at both the federal and state level are raised to fund these benefits, capital is removed from the private sector, resulting in more job losses. The vicous cycle repeats itself. Higher taxes to ease the pain of those who have lost jobs, less job creation resulting in higher unemployment and new taxes to extend benefits.

During the same week in which Obama was mulling and considering, at least while he was not flying to Copenhagen in pursuit of his Olympic reverie, Robert J. Barro and Charles J. Redlick published a précis of their recent research on job creation published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (Wall Street Journal Oct. 1, 2009: A23). This compelling study reached the conclusion that programs like the president's stimulus bill "will likely raise GDP by less than the increase in government spending." By contrast, reductions in taxes "will increase real GDP."

I suspect that the president could not care less whether his stimulus bill costs more in government spending than it produces in jobs and growth. Nor, I suspect, has he ever seriously considered lowering taxes, especially corporate taxes, as a means of creating jobs, as it assuredly would. What the president is "mulling" is not job creation but vote creation. His indecision is simply the result of political calculation. How many temporary $60,000 jobs can he create for union workers at an expense to the treasury of $100,000 apiece? How many more trillions will he be allowed to pile on to the national debt before an already skeptical public turns his party out of office?

The president's indecisiveness has real consequences for the future of this country. Underlying the Obama's mulling and considering is the simple fact that this president sets politics over principles. But while the president is trying to figure out which option will garner the most votes in the next election, and bring in the largest contributions from liberal supporters, tens of millions of Americans are going without jobs, and some of our finest young men are dying in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Dr. Jeffrey Folks taught for thirty years in universities in Europe, America, and Japan. He has published nine books and over a hundred articles on American culture and politics.