Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Year of False Choices

We are now at the end of one of the most incredible economic and political years in American history.

The year began with hope. The financial system seemed to have stabilized since the trauma of the Fall of 2008. The new president had campaigned as a post-partisan consensus builder and promised "change you can believe in." One of Barrack Obama's favorite campaign lines was to decry the "false choices" that prior administrations had made.

It all looked easy. Just put a nice guy in office -- someone articulate and worldly -- and our problems could be solved. Outside the United States, no American was more popular and more heralded than Barrack Obama as 2009 began.

Unemployment was growing as the New Year began and the economy was a serious worry. The unemployment rate was getting near 7 percent and threatened to get worse before it got better. There was still great fear in the credit markets, but a slight thaw seemed to have begun in the first few weeks of January.

There was good reason for hope and optimism as 2009 began. There was reason to hope that the new president could be a force for good and could bring a divided country together.

By the third week of January, choices began to be made.

The new Administration's first item of business, unique in American history, was to castigate the previous adminstration and to blame all domestic and foreign ills on past administrations. Where America faced problems, they were not the fault of dealing with difficult situations. No, that was not the problem. The problem was that American policy was wrong in every particular. Previous Administration had seen "false choices," when in reality, Obama seemed to believe, there were easy choices.

On the domestic front, the easy choice was to use the stimulus package to reward public employees, line the pockets of campaign supporters, and provide relief to those who were deemed worthy. Gone from the "stimulus package" was any serious "infrastructure" or "payroll tax cuts" or any of the elements that Obama's early January bi-partisanship had seemed to promise. Instead, the stimulus package was legislation worthy of the Chicago political climate from which Obama emerged. It was pure political pork with no stimulating effect whatever on an economy that was weakening. $ 800 billion was simply wasted for no purpose other than pure politics.

The next step was to take on the business community. The bully pulpit of the presidency was transformed into an attack dog aimed at business at all levels. The main target, early on, was the financial sector whose employees were described by Obama as purveyors of "greed and corruption." New czars were created by Obama to oversee large sectors of the American economy to be sure that they played by the Obama and Democratic party play book. On every occasion, Obama made clear his antipathy to the business community and his mistrust of the profit motive. In effect, the new president declared war on business -- a war that he continues to this day.

By March, it was clear that this Administration had no understanding of the deepening recession and, apparently, not much interest either. Instead, the Obama Administration focused on "climate change" and "health care reform." To the new president, these were the big issues and the growing ranks of the unemployed were not a problem.

As the summer of 2009 passed and unemployment climbed past the ten percent level for the first time since the early 1980s, the president continued to focus his attention on "climate change" and "health care," issues that were no longer in the top five issues considered important by the American public according to every opinion poll taken.

In the Fall, the public antipathy to the health care debate in Congress reached a tipping point as a majority of Americans preferred no action to the bills being debated in Congress. By Christmas Eve, the day of the successful Senate vote on the Obama health care bill, the public opposition was nearly two to one. All 60 Democratic Senators thumbed their nose at the public and voted to approve the most unpopular major piece of legislation in American history. Obama applauded their vote. The "public be damned" attitude of the Obama Administration and the Congress was on full display by Christmas day.

Now as the year is ending, it is clear that the Obama Administration is completely adrift. Even if the "health care bill" ultimately becomes law (which is not likely), it is clear that the final product achieves none of the objectives set out by Obama in his campaign. Obama's climate change agenda has become the butt of late night television comedy skits. Obama's personal popularity has sunk faster than any president in history during his first year in office.

Until the Obama Administration policies are dismantled or abandoned, the American economy will not really recover. It will either limp along or worse. This Administration despises business and free markets and that attitude (and accompanying policies) will prevent a serious business recovery. It was Roosevelt's antagonism toward business that helped to prolong the 1930s recession. Obama seems like Roosevelt in this regard.

The leader that Obama should look back to is Ronald Reagan. Reagan inherited an economy every bit as bad as the one that Obama inherited. Reagan did not lay the blame on his predecessors. Instead Reagan encouraged business, pushed through (a Democratic Congress) the largest tax cut in American history, and the economy responded with the greatest economic expansion in world history. (True bi-partisanship flourished under Reagan since he dealt mostly with Democratic Congresses).

These are "real choices" not "false choices." Elections matter. If Obama continues to crush the American economy, the public will have some choices to make in 2010. The public might be ready for "change we can believe in" by November. Obama was wrong. There are no "false choices."