President Obama has all but ensured his defeat in 2012. His speech Wednesday outlining his framework for deficit reduction was a pivotal moment in his presidency - the decisive tipping point, in which he revealed his almost limitless capacity for cynicism and mendacity. He frittered away whatever credibility he had left.
Mr. Obama is in full campaign mode, desperately seeking to consolidate his social democratic agenda. This is why winning re-election trumps everything else - including protecting our long-term economic security.
Much of the speech focused on bashing Republicans, especially House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s blueprint for entitlement and tax reform. Mr. Ryan’s plan would rein in government spending, slash the federal deficit and engender economic recovery.
Instead of debating the merits of Mr. Ryan’s proposals, Mr. Obama did the very opposite: He engaged in shameless demagoguery. The president claimed the Ryan plan seeks $1 trillion in “tax cuts for billionaires and millionaires.” This is false. In fact, his budget outline is revenue-neutral. All it does is call for lower rates in exchange for eliminating tax loopholes and special exemptions, which are used mainly by the wealthy - the supposed beneficiaries of Mr. Ryan’s pro-growth reforms. There is no tax cut; it is a figment of Mr. Obama’s imagination. Moreover, the president’s own deficit commission made a similar recommendation. The panel’s goal was to create a more efficient and broader tax code. By Mr. Obama’s logic, the commission’s Democratic co-chairman Erskine Bowles is also a shill for “the rich.”
Perhaps the president is confused by the fact that Mr. Ryan’s plan leaves current George W. Bush-era tax cuts in place. The idea that leaving something alone is a tax cut is the same logic that enabled Mr. Obama to refer to his own tax increases as cuts from “spending in the tax code.”
The White House argues that the Obama plan is a viable alternative to the Ryan blueprint. It isn’t. It wants more spending on almost every initiative dear to Democrats - subsidizing windmills and solar panels, protecting Medicaid and Pell Grants, funding “high-speed” railways, providing tax credits for electric cars and expanding the federal education bureaucracy. Big government is not being scaled back; rather, it is being entrenched. The only area of the budget where Mr. Obama proposes real cuts is at the Pentagon, pledging to slash more than $400 billion by 2023. In short, it is the economic program of a transnational progressive: Roll back defense spending while expanding welfare liberalism.
Mr. Obama does not even touch Social Security. He - again - falsely asserts that it has no immediate impact on the deficit. He also refuses to change how Medicare operates. The White House and congressional Democrats are demonizing Mr. Ryan, portraying him as someone who wants to balance the budget on the backs of seniors and the poor. It is classic divide-and-conquer politics, which seeks to pit segments of society against one another.
Mr. Ryan, however, has no intention of dismantling the entitlement state. He is not a libertarian - or even a hard-boiled Goldwater-Reagan Republican. He is a neoconservative who seeks to revamp Great Society programs to make them sustainable. His proposal would not end Medicare. It would save it. The Ryan plan wants to turn it into a giant voucher program whereby premium support subsidies - starting at $15,000 per senior and rising for lower-income persons - would enable the elderly to purchase private insurance. This would encourage more choice and competition, thereby curtailing rising health costs. The reason the left despises the idea is because it would take millions of Americans off the public rolls, substituting the market for government central planning and bureaucratic control. The power of the liberal ruling class would be diminished.
At its core, Mr. Obama’s speech was profoundly reactionary. He is yesterday’s man peddling yesterday’s ideas. He is hoping to preserve the bloated nanny state Democrats have erected since the New Deal. Most of the “spending cuts” he vows will eliminate about $4 trillion from the debt in 12 years are simply huge tax increases. This would cripple the private sector and take America down the European road of permanent high unemployment and low growth. It is a recipe for economic stagnation and national ruin.
Mr. Obama refuses to confront the seminal reality of American life: We are going broke. The only way to keep America from heading off a financial cliff is to dramatically reverse course - repeal Obamacare, implement deep across-the-board spending cuts and reform entitlements, especially Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Together these programs constitute nearly $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities; no nation, no matter how big and prosperous, can sustain that financially. America is being drowned in an ocean of red ink.
The president’s class warfare is a smoke screen. He hopes to distract voters from his immoral and reckless fiscal record. He is the one who has compiled massive deficits, which this year alone are projected to be a record $1.6 trillion. He is the one who has accumulated more debt during his administration than it took for America to amass in the first 200 years of its history combined. He is the one who is proposing trillion-dollar deficits for years to come.
Now, after having wrecked the country’s finances, he is presenting himself as a born-again budget hawk. Even by Washington standards, this is preposterously self-serving. The electorate eventually will see through it; the debt crisis will compel the nation to kick Mr. Obama out of office. Samuel Johnson said that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” No, demagoguery is.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.