Monday, March 16, 2009

“Never waste a good crisis” has become the semi-official motto of the Obama administration.

We first heard it from the Machiavellian Rahm Emmanuel last November, when he said “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste. … It’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.” The gaffe-prone Hillary Clinton echoed this sentiment in Europe earlier this month. Then President Obama, in his Saturday radio address, urged America to “discover great opportunity in the midst of great crisis.”

Emergencies call for urgent responses that allow little time for substantive debate. That is why ambitious pols treat them like winning lottery tickets. In one sense, we can’t blame them. Some lawmakers have been quietly feeding their pet ideas since the Watergate crisis or the recession of 1982. They missed out back then and won’t see another chance in their lifetimes. So every aged idea got crated onto the stimulus bill. One thing we can say about this Congress: It has learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

So the crisis mongering began. Like environmentalists, the administration knows the public will never adopt its agenda unless it fears looming disaster. So the crisis represents opportunity. To maximize the opportunity the Administration must maximize the crisis. Exploit fear and uncertainty? Yes they can!

Next, with consumer confidence plunging and presidential approval rates ebbing, the Obama administration executed a high-speed hair-pin turn. The president now says the crisis is “not as bad as we think.” We’re still waiting for the “lemons out of lemonade” line, which always seems to accompany addresses like this.

Of course, the first dollar of stimulus money has yet to be spent. So the sudden lifting of the crisis must be driven by some other necessity than reality. It is beginning to look like the country was taken for a ride. We would ask a question - “Will the emergency measures that were rushed through Congress now be rescinded?”- but we don’t want to be patted on the head like a naive child in a W.C. Fields film.

Even Obama supporters are starting to feel like used bubblegum. While still assuring reporters that he remains an Obama fan, investor Warren Buffett seemed alarmed by the size and aggressiveness of the unprecedented levels of government spending under the guise of response to the economic crisis. It is as if, following the Pearl Harbor attack, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was asking for a declaration of war and “throwing in about ten of [his] pet projects.”

Crises rarely produce tasty stews, because legislators toss in every aged ingredient in their cupboard. Rules favoring union organizers are being forced through, even though hiking the price of labor means fewer jobs. Just ask the steel makers or the coal miners. Banks are being forced to take losses on loans made in good faith, while new homebuyers find it harder to get mortgages. Planned capital-gains tax hikes stifle investment and sink the stock market. This means that college-education funds, pensions and retirement savings will take longer to recover.

Obama dismissively said that the stock market “bobs up and down day to day.” True enough, but the up-bobs are so rare these days that they make headlines.

Meanwhile, high-cost “green” initiatives pushed by environmental alarmists (the real experts in exploiting crises) keep thundering forward like a bowling ball aimed at the few standing sectors of our economy. The new rules threaten to push up the costs of making goods and push down America’s ability to compete globally.

The general climate of uncertainty created by so much rapid and ill-conceived change has stifled consumer spending to the point where the president has had to plead that Americans not “stuff their money in their mattresses.” With Obamanomics, stuffing the mattress may be a rational investment strategy, unless double-digit inflation hits.

Americans thought they were electing a slightly left-of-center president who would make moderate moves. Yet moderates, like sensible people, do not see opportunity in crisis, but see misery. Moderates aim to end crises as soon as possible so that the ordinary citizen isn’t robbed of his savings or his hope.

Has the moderate Obama left the building?

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