Commentary Magazine


Topic: Blaming Bush

Re: Blaming Bush for the Deficit Is Getting Old

Michael Boskin isn’t much impressed with Obama’s complaint that he inherited a budget deficit. He points out that Obama’s own budget sets us on a course of reckless spending, the cost of which can’t be reasonably balanced by tax hikes (at least not without crippling our economic growth). Boskin explains the depth of the hole Obama — not George W. Bush — is digging for us:

On average, in the first three years of the 10-year budget plan, federal spending rises by 4.4% of GDP. That’s more than during President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and Vietnam War buildup and President Ronald Reagan’s defense buildup combined. . . Remarkably, President Obama will add more red ink in his first two years than President George W. Bush — berated by conservatives for his failure to control domestic spending and by liberals for the explosion of military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan — did in eight. In his first 15 months, Mr. Obama will raise the debt burden — the ratio of the national debt to GDP — by more than Reagan did in eight years. . . He projects a cumulative deficit of $11.5 trillion by 2020. That brings the publicly held debt (excluding debt held inside the government, e.g., Social Security) to 77% of GDP, and the gross debt to over 100%. Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush each ended their terms at about 40%.

The tax hikes needed to pay for all this would choke off economic growth. (“Such vast debt implies immense future tax increases. Balancing the 2015 budget would require a 43% increase in everyone’s income taxes that year.”) This all is occurring, as Boskin notes, while baby boomers are hitting retirement age, thereby pushing up entitlement costs.

It is understandable then why Obama would rather deflect the discussion to his predecessor’s fiscal shortcomings. But the figures Boskin cites are real and the blame for our worsening situation will rightly be directed to the current White House occupant. He loves, of course, to tell us that choices are “false” or to hover above the political debate as if he were a cable-TV commentator or, yes, a law-school professor. But this is a problem that requires him to do something. And when decisive, potentially unpopular action is required (e.g., Afghanistan war strategy, Iran policy) Obama seems to shrink before our eyes. Is it timidity? Lack of experience or executive ability? We don’t know.

All we can judge Obama by are his decisions and the results he obtains. So far, on the budget (as on so much else), he has come up wanting. There is no policy innovation, no debunking of liberal dogma, and no willingness to embrace the best of his opponents’ ideas. So we can understand why George W. Bush is a favorite crutch.

Michael Boskin isn’t much impressed with Obama’s complaint that he inherited a budget deficit. He points out that Obama’s own budget sets us on a course of reckless spending, the cost of which can’t be reasonably balanced by tax hikes (at least not without crippling our economic growth). Boskin explains the depth of the hole Obama — not George W. Bush — is digging for us:

On average, in the first three years of the 10-year budget plan, federal spending rises by 4.4% of GDP. That’s more than during President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and Vietnam War buildup and President Ronald Reagan’s defense buildup combined. . . Remarkably, President Obama will add more red ink in his first two years than President George W. Bush — berated by conservatives for his failure to control domestic spending and by liberals for the explosion of military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan — did in eight. In his first 15 months, Mr. Obama will raise the debt burden — the ratio of the national debt to GDP — by more than Reagan did in eight years. . . He projects a cumulative deficit of $11.5 trillion by 2020. That brings the publicly held debt (excluding debt held inside the government, e.g., Social Security) to 77% of GDP, and the gross debt to over 100%. Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush each ended their terms at about 40%.

The tax hikes needed to pay for all this would choke off economic growth. (“Such vast debt implies immense future tax increases. Balancing the 2015 budget would require a 43% increase in everyone’s income taxes that year.”) This all is occurring, as Boskin notes, while baby boomers are hitting retirement age, thereby pushing up entitlement costs.

It is understandable then why Obama would rather deflect the discussion to his predecessor’s fiscal shortcomings. But the figures Boskin cites are real and the blame for our worsening situation will rightly be directed to the current White House occupant. He loves, of course, to tell us that choices are “false” or to hover above the political debate as if he were a cable-TV commentator or, yes, a law-school professor. But this is a problem that requires him to do something. And when decisive, potentially unpopular action is required (e.g., Afghanistan war strategy, Iran policy) Obama seems to shrink before our eyes. Is it timidity? Lack of experience or executive ability? We don’t know.

All we can judge Obama by are his decisions and the results he obtains. So far, on the budget (as on so much else), he has come up wanting. There is no policy innovation, no debunking of liberal dogma, and no willingness to embrace the best of his opponents’ ideas. So we can understand why George W. Bush is a favorite crutch.

Read Less

Obama’s Three-Part Path to Failure on Iran

Barack Obama’s friends at the New York Times give us an insight into the president’s strategy for rallying the world behind his Iran policy. In an op-ed by David Sanger that is given the always misleading label of “news analysis” and published in the paper’s news section, we learn that Obama has a three-pronged approach to Iran: first, win international support for tough sanctions; second, win over the Chinese; and third, stop Israel from attacking Iran.

But despite the Times’s puffery, this is nothing but a three-way path to total failure. Failure, that is, if the goal is to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear device, as seems certain unless something drastic happens.

Despite the lip service being paid to wider support for sanctions this week in the wake of Iran’s latest provocation — their decision to openly begin enriching uranium for nuclear fuel — the odds that Obama’s low-key approach to Iran will lead to the sort of sanctions that could hurt Iran’s economy and punish the regime so much that it would either give in or be toppled are slim and none. After a year of nonstop talk about talking and deadlines that passed with nothing happening, how can anyone, even those European countries that are actually inclined to support tough sanctions, believe that Obama means business now? And so long as neither Russia nor China supports such sanctions, a UN backing for any real measure is impossible. Right now the Russians are being coy about their opposition, while the Chinese are quite open about theirs, yet both are more interested in thwarting the United States than they are in restraining Tehran.

As for stopping Israel from taking any action to defend itself against the threat of annihilation from an Islamist regime that has spoken of such a crime as a goal, the inclusion of this point in Obama’s three-part plan seems to indicate that his real goal is learning to live with an Iranian bomb, not stopping one. The hucksterism of foreign-policy snake-oil salesmen who urge just such an approach is getting louder and louder, with the op-ed page of the Times providing space for such voices on a regular basis.

The defense for Obama’s feckless diplomacy put forward in the Times article is that Obama had to spend at least a year trying diplomacy so as to convince the world that he tried engagement after the confrontational Bush years. Blaming Bush is Obama’s all-purpose political tactic, but it won’t wash here. Bush not only failed to confront Iran; he also outsourced our diplomatic efforts on the nuclear issue to France and Germany in his second term. The utter failure of his engagement effort was clear by Bush’s last year in office, but rather than face the issue and take action, he decided to pass it off on his successor. This James Buchanan–like approach to a critical issue was one of Bush’s genuine failures, and the fact that he spent 2008 similarly vetoing any Israel action on Iran only makes Obama’s dedication to the same cause both ironic and scary. But however badly Bush blundered on Iran, the idea that we needed an additional year of diplomatic failure to justify subsequent action is a joke.

The problem here with Obama’s painful dithering for the past 12 months is not just that we have wasted a precious year that the Iranians used to get closer to their nuclear goal while the West did nothing to stop them. It is that this year of engagement, during which the Islamist leaders of Iran brutally repressed domestic dissenters while Obama refused to speak up for regime change, has convinced the Iranians that Obama is a weakling whose rhetoric will never be backed up by action. At the same time, the engagement process has not only paralyzed momentum for tough sanctions in the West but also lowered the bar for the sorts of sanctions that are to be pursued. Rather than a crippling economic boycott that would stop the flow of oil into or out of Iran, now we are supposed to believe that limited measures aimed only at the Revolutionary Guards will work. The point is, even if Obama were to unite the West behind such a plan — something that would take months to pass and then further time to implement — it wouldn’t be anywhere close to being enough to hurt Tehran, let alone convince it that it must back down.

Obama’s three-point plan is not a path to success on Iran. It is, instead, a plan to allow him to justify failure.

Barack Obama’s friends at the New York Times give us an insight into the president’s strategy for rallying the world behind his Iran policy. In an op-ed by David Sanger that is given the always misleading label of “news analysis” and published in the paper’s news section, we learn that Obama has a three-pronged approach to Iran: first, win international support for tough sanctions; second, win over the Chinese; and third, stop Israel from attacking Iran.

But despite the Times’s puffery, this is nothing but a three-way path to total failure. Failure, that is, if the goal is to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear device, as seems certain unless something drastic happens.

Despite the lip service being paid to wider support for sanctions this week in the wake of Iran’s latest provocation — their decision to openly begin enriching uranium for nuclear fuel — the odds that Obama’s low-key approach to Iran will lead to the sort of sanctions that could hurt Iran’s economy and punish the regime so much that it would either give in or be toppled are slim and none. After a year of nonstop talk about talking and deadlines that passed with nothing happening, how can anyone, even those European countries that are actually inclined to support tough sanctions, believe that Obama means business now? And so long as neither Russia nor China supports such sanctions, a UN backing for any real measure is impossible. Right now the Russians are being coy about their opposition, while the Chinese are quite open about theirs, yet both are more interested in thwarting the United States than they are in restraining Tehran.

As for stopping Israel from taking any action to defend itself against the threat of annihilation from an Islamist regime that has spoken of such a crime as a goal, the inclusion of this point in Obama’s three-part plan seems to indicate that his real goal is learning to live with an Iranian bomb, not stopping one. The hucksterism of foreign-policy snake-oil salesmen who urge just such an approach is getting louder and louder, with the op-ed page of the Times providing space for such voices on a regular basis.

The defense for Obama’s feckless diplomacy put forward in the Times article is that Obama had to spend at least a year trying diplomacy so as to convince the world that he tried engagement after the confrontational Bush years. Blaming Bush is Obama’s all-purpose political tactic, but it won’t wash here. Bush not only failed to confront Iran; he also outsourced our diplomatic efforts on the nuclear issue to France and Germany in his second term. The utter failure of his engagement effort was clear by Bush’s last year in office, but rather than face the issue and take action, he decided to pass it off on his successor. This James Buchanan–like approach to a critical issue was one of Bush’s genuine failures, and the fact that he spent 2008 similarly vetoing any Israel action on Iran only makes Obama’s dedication to the same cause both ironic and scary. But however badly Bush blundered on Iran, the idea that we needed an additional year of diplomatic failure to justify subsequent action is a joke.

The problem here with Obama’s painful dithering for the past 12 months is not just that we have wasted a precious year that the Iranians used to get closer to their nuclear goal while the West did nothing to stop them. It is that this year of engagement, during which the Islamist leaders of Iran brutally repressed domestic dissenters while Obama refused to speak up for regime change, has convinced the Iranians that Obama is a weakling whose rhetoric will never be backed up by action. At the same time, the engagement process has not only paralyzed momentum for tough sanctions in the West but also lowered the bar for the sorts of sanctions that are to be pursued. Rather than a crippling economic boycott that would stop the flow of oil into or out of Iran, now we are supposed to believe that limited measures aimed only at the Revolutionary Guards will work. The point is, even if Obama were to unite the West behind such a plan — something that would take months to pass and then further time to implement — it wouldn’t be anywhere close to being enough to hurt Tehran, let alone convince it that it must back down.

Obama’s three-point plan is not a path to success on Iran. It is, instead, a plan to allow him to justify failure.

Read Less

Blaming Bush for the Deficit Is Getting Old

Megan McArdle nails Obama on his “blame Bush for everything” fetish, which has become all the more frequent as Obama ducks responsibility for a budget proposal that gushes red ink:

Listening to his defenders reminds me of those people who sit around whining about how their Dad was really distant and critical. … I mean, fine, you apparently had a rotten childhood, but Dad can’t get come and get you off the couch and find you a girlfriend and a better job. Girls and employers get really creeped out if they try.

Whatever George W. Bush did or did not do, he’s no longer in office, and doesn’t have the power to do a damn thing about the budget. Obama is the one who is president with the really humongous deficits. Deficits of the size Bush ran are basically sustainable indefinitely; deficits of the size that Obama is apparently planning to run, aren’t. If he doesn’t change those plans, he will be the one who led the government into fiscal crisis, even if changing them would be [sob!] politically difficult.

This, like so much of what Obama does, seems designed to get through the moment — a speech, an interview query, or a press conference. Why aren’t you doing something about the deficit? “Bush’s fault, Bush’s fault,” he squawks like a well-trained parrot. It is, of course, a line, not an answer. As Keith Hennessey points out in assessing the “blame Bush” mantra:

President Obama does not point out that his first major policy effort was to propose and enact an $862 B stimulus law without paying for it. (CBO has upped their estimate from the previous $787 B figure.) He did inherit a huge deficit, in large part resulting from the recession and bailout costs, and he immediately made it much bigger.

And, as Hennessey explains, Obama’s proposed policies would result in a far more calamitous fiscal situation than the one he inherited, including “a budget deficit this year of 8.3% of GDP, debt/GDP increasing from 64% now [rising to] to 77% in ten years; [and] the size of government, measured by both spending and taxes, climbing to historically high shares of GDP.” Nor does Obama have any plan (other than vilifying Rep. Paul Ryan) for addressing the growth of entitlement programs.

Obama’s excuse mongering is the telltale sign of a president who lacks his own policy solutions. Voters are not, I would suggest, going to buy the buck-passing — not from lawmakers on the ballot this year or from Obama in 2012. So he better come up with an answer and not an excuse if he intends ever to get that second term. For if he lacks the wherewithal to deal with problems on his watch, surely a challenger will come along with a fiscal game plan of his or her own. And I strongly suspect that blaming George W. Bush won’t be part of that plan.

Megan McArdle nails Obama on his “blame Bush for everything” fetish, which has become all the more frequent as Obama ducks responsibility for a budget proposal that gushes red ink:

Listening to his defenders reminds me of those people who sit around whining about how their Dad was really distant and critical. … I mean, fine, you apparently had a rotten childhood, but Dad can’t get come and get you off the couch and find you a girlfriend and a better job. Girls and employers get really creeped out if they try.

Whatever George W. Bush did or did not do, he’s no longer in office, and doesn’t have the power to do a damn thing about the budget. Obama is the one who is president with the really humongous deficits. Deficits of the size Bush ran are basically sustainable indefinitely; deficits of the size that Obama is apparently planning to run, aren’t. If he doesn’t change those plans, he will be the one who led the government into fiscal crisis, even if changing them would be [sob!] politically difficult.

This, like so much of what Obama does, seems designed to get through the moment — a speech, an interview query, or a press conference. Why aren’t you doing something about the deficit? “Bush’s fault, Bush’s fault,” he squawks like a well-trained parrot. It is, of course, a line, not an answer. As Keith Hennessey points out in assessing the “blame Bush” mantra:

President Obama does not point out that his first major policy effort was to propose and enact an $862 B stimulus law without paying for it. (CBO has upped their estimate from the previous $787 B figure.) He did inherit a huge deficit, in large part resulting from the recession and bailout costs, and he immediately made it much bigger.

And, as Hennessey explains, Obama’s proposed policies would result in a far more calamitous fiscal situation than the one he inherited, including “a budget deficit this year of 8.3% of GDP, debt/GDP increasing from 64% now [rising to] to 77% in ten years; [and] the size of government, measured by both spending and taxes, climbing to historically high shares of GDP.” Nor does Obama have any plan (other than vilifying Rep. Paul Ryan) for addressing the growth of entitlement programs.

Obama’s excuse mongering is the telltale sign of a president who lacks his own policy solutions. Voters are not, I would suggest, going to buy the buck-passing — not from lawmakers on the ballot this year or from Obama in 2012. So he better come up with an answer and not an excuse if he intends ever to get that second term. For if he lacks the wherewithal to deal with problems on his watch, surely a challenger will come along with a fiscal game plan of his or her own. And I strongly suspect that blaming George W. Bush won’t be part of that plan.

Read Less




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