Given his celebrity, it's easy to think of Barack Obama as an entertainer, and as such he has been compared to a rock star admired by groupies, or a movie star adored by fans. But more aptly than either of these analogies, in my opinion, Obama can be compared to a magician applauded by a gullible audience.
In a layman's estimation, there are three basic components involved in any magic trick: an assurance of truth, misdirection, and deception. For example, a magician may present to you something real, like an ordinary deck of cards, to establish credibility and let you believe all is on the up and up. Then, he will proceed to vocally and physically divert attention from the deception that leads to the trick's outcome.
The same components exist in Obama's political magic show. I'm sure you remember his most famous trick. He presented America with a very real threat by declaring that healthcare costs are rapidly increasing and that millions of Americans are uninsured. He then diverted the audience's attention, shifting their focus to blame rich doctors, insurance companies, and Republicans for all of these problems. While Americans were focused on this, he underhandedly worked backroom deals, giving the federal government the right to holistically regulate private health insurance and commerce while placing a huge liability upon American taxpayers without their knowledge or consent. Add a few magic words about the historic nature of his trick and...
Voila! The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, the political equivalent of a colossal rock, had seemingly disappeared, and the states left at the mercy of a powerful federal overseer that was never meant to have such control over their respective dominions.
To be sure, that was an incredible trick to follow. But the show must go on, and it has ever since. His latest trick was unveiled just a couple of days ago, this time involving the hot issue of public sector benefits.
The entire trick takes place in less than a minute. Barack Obama took the stage and declared that there are very real "budget issues" that need to be addressed, and he conveyed that he thinks public employees, like everyone, must be willing to absorb cuts to balance budgets. He went on to say that most public employees "would agree with that," but he does not "think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed upon."
To see the trick, all you need to do is break it down by each component.
To establish credibility, he assured us of a well-known truth: budgets need to be balanced due to public benefit crises around the country.
Wasting no time, he skillfully began the misdirection. A trickster like Obama knows well that the misdirection doesn't have to be true; it just has to keep the audience captivated until the finale. So he mentions that his administration supports cuts to tackle the budget shortfalls in our nation. His hope at this point is that the audience trusts him enough to not deeply ponder the fact that his adding over $3 trillion to federal debt in two years of office doesn't jive with his contention that he is actually committed to "budget cuts." And how does he ensure that the audience doesn't catch on to the ruse? Like any good magician, he increases the confusion. He tells us that public workers would agree with budget cuts, even though public workers are protesting madly about the intention to cut public budgets. At this point, with those that may have been paying attention thoroughly confused, Obama presents the final move using rhetorical sleight-of-hand. He goes on to suggest that elected officials, at the behest of taxpayers, asking public employees to contribute to their own pensions and pay for a portion of their own healthcare amounts to "denigration" and "vilification," and that disallowing unions to collectively bargain with a heretofore generally unrepresented taxpayer over benefits and working conditions is "infringing upon their rights."
And the result? Tah-dah! Public workers who enjoy unparalleled job security, competitive pay, and often ludicrously unsustainable defined benefits have been transformed into the victims of those taxpayers that provide their comfortable livelihoods. That's a great trick indeed! Not at all true, of course, but another great trick.
So the next time our president begins to talk about public budgets and unions as he undoubtedly will, just be sure you're watching closely. Because when Obama takes the stage, all is not as it seems.