- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2009

EPIC BATTLE

“If leadership is measured by seizing big opportunities that others do not see, then Barack Obama is already proving himself a leader,” Roger Altman writes in the Financial Times.

“His 2007 decision to run for president was audacious but shrewd. He saw the opening. Now, he has judged that the severe economic crisis, his own soaring popularity and Republican disarray provide a rare chance to revolutionize U.S. domestic policy. And he is going for it right now,” said Mr. Altman, who was deputy Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration.

“His new budget calls for breathtaking change in one big step. In the modern era, only Lyndon Johnson in 1965 and Ronald Reagan in 1981 have sought and achieved comparable change. Johnson’s Great Society sharply expanded the government’s role. Reagan rolled that back. Now, Mr Obama is proposing a new era of progressive government, centered on expanded federal roles in energy, health and education.

“This level of federal activism is anathema to Republicans. It attacks their core principles of lower taxes and limited government. If implemented, the new progressivism may rule indefinitely. The era of Reagan conservatism lasted nearly 30 years. Republicans, as Newt Gingrich, former House speaker, and Rush Limbaugh, the radio host, have urged, have no choice but to wage all-out war against it. We are about to witness an epic congressional fight - the political equivalent of the Battle of Antietam in the American Civil War.”

OBAMA’S PREMISE

“In his speech to Congress last week, President Obama promised to ‘go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs.’ Although the process was not completed yet, he said, ‘we have already identified $2 trillion in savings over the next decade,’ ” Reason magazine’s Jacob Sullum writes at www.reason.com.

“But it turns out that tax increases account for half of those ‘savings.’ From Obama’s perspective, it seems, letting people keep their own money qualifies as a ‘wasteful and ineffective program.’ That makes sense if you believe all resources are the government’s to distribute as it sees fit, which is the premise underlying the multitrillion-dollar spending binge that Obama calls ‘A New Era of Responsibility,’ ” Mr. Sullum said

“Under the Bush administration, Obama said, ‘a surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy.’ Whatever you think about the wisdom of Bush’s tax cuts, they amounted to taking less from people, not giving more to them. Obama makes it sound as if there is no meaningful difference between robbing Peter to pay Paul (which is what he has in mind when he talks about ‘rebalancing the tax code’) and leaving Peter alone (or, more accurately, robbing him less thoroughly) - except that the latter option is, in Obama’s view, morally inferior.”

FEED THE BEAST

President Obama’s spending proposals are “the liberal equivalent of the conservative attempt to ‘starve the beast,’ ” Ross Douthat writes in a blog at theatlantic.com.

“In both the Reagan and Bush eras, Republicans passed tax cuts and ran up large deficits while hoping that by starving the federal government of revenue they would curb its long-run growth. Obama’s spending proposals would effectively reverse that dynamic - they would create new spending commitments and run up large deficits, in the hopes that the dollars poured into health care and education will create a new baseline for government’s obligations, which in turn will create the political space for tax increases on the middle class,” Mr. Douthat said.

“Like the starve-the-beast approach, the Obama strategy puts off the hard part till tomorrow: Give them tax cuts today, conservatives said, and they’ll swallow spending cuts tomorrow; give them universal health care, universal pre-K, subsidies for green industry and all the rest of it today, liberals seem to be thinking, and they’ll be willing to pay for it tomorrow. …

“But of course none of this will work if the American economy doesn’t escape its current downward spiral. If you’re running enormous deficits and don’t have any economic growth to show for it, it doesn’t matter how popular your social-spending programs are in the short run, as more than a few ex-Latin American leaders will be happy to attest.

“And what does make the Obama strategy misguided is that it looks increasingly like a substitute for a depression-fighting strategy - and what’s worse, a substitute that has the potential to actually make matters worse, when Obama, liberalism, and America all desperately need things to get better.”

A NEW ERA?

“In setting a date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq the other day, President Obama said, ‘Every nation and every group must know, whether you wish America good or ill, that the end of the war in Iraq will enable a new era of American leadership and engagement in the Middle East.’ Indeed, he said, ‘That era has just begun,’ ” New York Post columnist Amir Taheri writes.

“This was a curious statement. Why speak of the war’s end, yet not mention whether this has already happened - and if it has, whether it ended in victory for the U.S. and its Iraqi allies? But Obama’s ‘new era’ would look quite different depending on who won. It’s one thing to build a ‘new era’ based on victory, quite another on the basis of defeat,” Mr. Taheri said.

“Nor did Obama say why he wants a firm timetable for withdrawal. Does he want to create the illusion that he has some strategy of his own - even if no one quite knows what it is?

“His wordplay with the term ‘combat troops’ adds to confusion. The 35,000 to 50,000 men and women that he’ll keep in Iraq certainly won’t flinch from combat when and if needed.

“Whatever Obama’s calculations, many in the Middle East see his move as a signal that America wishes to minimize its involvement in the region. Few commentators take Obama’s ‘new era of American leadership and engagement’ seriously: You don’t start a ‘new era’ by going away.”

• Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or e-mail Greg Pierce.


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