I have long contended that public policy issues are as complicated as they appear because the giants of Capitol Hill like it that way, particularly the giants of the left. Bills can be written more simply. Decisions can be phrased with a certain lucidity. Yet if they were, the electorate would mull them over and, after a cup of coffee, make a decision on them. As things stand, with talk of budget imbalance and of esoteric matters such as “sequestration,” voters scratch their heads, blink their eyes and walk away. Who gives a hoot? It is time for my morning nap, perhaps two naps.
This is another of Washington’s anti-democratic ways that the politicians have bootlegged into our legislative process. Make policy so confusing to normal people that they will take little or no interest in it. It is all a game reserved exclusively for the political class. Al Gore, in his new book, prosaically titled “The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change,” bangs on about the powers of lobbyists and giant corporations in shaping legislation. Do you know anyone who sits on more corporate boards than Mr. Gore? Has he considered the unwieldy nature of legislation in the first place? We have debt piled atop debt that even Warren Buffett cannot conceptualize. Sequestration, indeed. Why not segregation or constipation? It’s Greek to me.
Then there is another of Washington’s ways: lying. Or just indulging in double talk until it reaches the point of lying or at least of deceiving. That is done all the time, by Republicans and Democrats, though the No. 1 Democrat is showing himself to be a master in the art and is going over the top in his row over sequestration. He has misstated the truth so shamelessly that he is in danger of destroying the one thing he, as a politician, needs the most: credibility. Once that is gone, he will have critics and even friends raising doubts about what he says on matters vast and puny.
The White House and the president have claimed that the hullabaloo over sequestration has been raised by Republicans. It was their idea, according to the White House. That struck me as odd because the White House devised the idea of sequestration in the summer of 2011 to ease Republicans and Democrats into a deal enabling them to raise the debt ceiling. Remember the debt ceiling? Included in the 2011 deal was a provision to bar any further tax increases. President Obama himself endorsed the idea. In his third debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, he specifically said, “The sequester is not something I proposed.” No, “It is something that the Congress proposed.”
By continuing to misstate the truth, he casts doubt on Bob Woodward’s latest book, and that has aroused Mr. Woodward. Says Mr. Woodward, “My extensive reporting for my book, ‘The Price of Politics,’ shows the automatic spending cuts were initiated by the White House and were the brainchild of [Jack] Lew and White House congressional relations chief Rob Nabors.” At the time, Mr. Lew was White House chief of staff and is now Mr. Obama’s nominee for secretary of the Treasury. What’s more, said Mr. Woodward: “Obama personally approved of the plan for Lew and Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They did so at 2:30 p.m. July 27, 2011, according to interviews with two senior White House aides who were directly involved.”
Mr. Obama, you are being watched. I would not resort to such tricks typical of a community organizer but not so easily resorted to by a president. Too many people are watching. Bill Clinton could advise you on this. It is not wise to play cute with the historical record.
Mr. Obama has a problem on Capitol Hill. He is not trusted. Republicans do not trust him, and Democrats are wary. My guess is that this administration is going to find the years ahead painful.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of The American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. He is the author most recently of “The Death of Liberalism” (Thomas Nelson, 2012).