Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Obama Demagoguery Supplemented by a Touch of Cruelty

In the Great Sequestration Debate, here’s what we know: (a) The president has paternity of an idea he now characterizes as a brutal and senseless assault on America. (b) The president and his then-chief of staff, Jack Lew, misled the public about their role in giving birth to the sequester idea. (c) House Republicans have twice passed legislation to avoid the sequester cuts with carefully targeted ones, but Senate Democrats refused to act. (d) Mr. Obama has brushed off a Republican plan to give him flexibility to allocate the $85 billion in spending cuts, which makes no sense if the president wants to replace reckless cuts with responsible ones. 

Whatever one thinks about the merits of cutting $85 billion out of an almost $3.6 trillion budget, the effort to portray the cuts as ushering in days of tribulation, distress and anguish, of trouble and ruin, of darkness and gloom is–how to put this?–insane.

If the sequester cuts go into effect, domestic agencies would have to cut 5 percent from their budgets after having received a 17-percent increase during the president’s first term (not counting the more than a quarter-of-a-trillion stimulus bonus). And our budget this fiscal year would still be larger (by some $15 billion) than it was in the last fiscal year.

But what makes this particular episode somewhat different than past ones is that Mr. Obama has supplemented his demagoguery with a touch of cruelty. That is, he has made it clear that he wants to inflict as much harm as possible on Americans in order to make the cuts live up to the hype. The president’s greatest fear is that the sequester cuts will kick in and life will go on. So he’s threatening to pass over wasteful programs in order to target more essential ones. 

Emily Holubowich–a Washington health-care lobbyist who leads a coalition of 3,000 nonprofit groups fighting the cuts–gave away the game in her comments to the Washington Post. “The good news is, the world doesn’t end March 2. The bad news is, the world doesn’t end March 2,” Ms. Holubowich said. “The worst-case scenario for us is the sequester hits and nothing bad really happens. And Republicans say: See, that wasn’t so bad” (h/t Charles Krauthammer).

So we have the president determined to administer as much pain as he can on Americans even as he excoriates Republicans for their “meat-cleaver approach” that will “eviscerate” key programs.

It is really quite remarkable, this concoction of willful deceptions, hyperbole, demagoguery, mismanagement, and deliberate harm. And to think that a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Barack Obama promised to put an end to cynicism. Instead he has added massively to it. The harm he is doing to our political culture is very nearly incalculable.