Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gerald Seib

SOTU vs. the Budget

This analysis of the Obama budget is not unlike those circulating from conservative economists, think tanks, and commentators:

The first is the projected deficit in the coming year, nearly 11 percent of the country’s entire economic output. That is not unprecedented: During the Civil War, World War I and World War II, the United States ran soaring deficits, but usually with the expectation that they would come back down once peace was restored and war spending abated.

But the second number, buried deeper in the budget’s projections, is the one that really commands attention: By President Obama’s own optimistic projections, American deficits will not return to what are widely considered sustainable levels over the next 10 years. In fact, in 2019 and 2020 — years after Mr. Obama has left the political scene, even if he serves two terms — they start rising again sharply, to more than 5 percent of gross domestic product. His budget draws a picture of a nation that like many American homeowners simply cannot get above water.

What is noteworthy is that it comes from the New York Times. It is a stark statement from the media outlet most sympathetic to the administration that the budget is both deeply dishonest and deeply irresponsible. David Sanger nails it when he says:

Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors. Beyond that lies the possibility that the United States could begin to suffer the same disease that has afflicted Japan over the past decade. As debt grew more rapidly than income, that country’s influence around the world eroded.

Nor is Obama going to get away with passing this all off on his predecessors. (“with this budget, Mr. Obama now owns this deficit”).

Once again we see the chasim between Obama’s rhetoric and his governance. In the SOTU he delivers a stirring call for fiscal sobriety: “But understand—if we do not take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery—all of which could have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.” But a week later he delivers a budget that has a 5.7 percent increase in spending over last year’s huge budget and that will launch a path of unsustainable debt, with an ever increasing tax burden on those on whom we must rely to generate economic growth and jobs.

Gerald Seib, not a fire-breathing conservative either, makes the national security argument:

These numbers are often discussed as an economic and domestic problem. But it’s time to start thinking of the ramifications for America’s ability to continue playing its traditional global role.

The U.S. government this year will borrow one of every three dollars it spends, with many of those funds coming from foreign countries. That weakens America’s standing and its freedom to act; strengthens China and other world powers including cash-rich oil producers; puts long-term defense spending at risk; undermines the power of the American system as a model for developing countries; and reduces the aura of power that has been a great intangible asset for presidents for more than a century.

And this is the nub of the problem for Obama. At some point—now, I think—the rhetoric runs out and there are just facts left. He is president, not George W. Bush. His budget is a garngantuan and unsustainable recipe for sucking more and more resources out of the private sector, leaving us deeper in debt than ever. Pundits across the political spectrum and, more critically, voters expect him to align his speeches with his policy agenda and work on solving our problems. Yet he seems incapable of doing more than giving the good speech. When it comes to governance, he simply recycles the same shopworn tax-and-spend liberal policies. But now, the public has reached the point where they expect more. They expect Obama not to pawn off issues on others, or delegate his agenda to Congress, or slip by on trickery (Matt Continetti points out that the discretionary budget freeze comes after an 84 percent hike in discretionary spending last year). If the 2011 budget is any indication, Obama is simply not up to the task.

This analysis of the Obama budget is not unlike those circulating from conservative economists, think tanks, and commentators:

The first is the projected deficit in the coming year, nearly 11 percent of the country’s entire economic output. That is not unprecedented: During the Civil War, World War I and World War II, the United States ran soaring deficits, but usually with the expectation that they would come back down once peace was restored and war spending abated.

But the second number, buried deeper in the budget’s projections, is the one that really commands attention: By President Obama’s own optimistic projections, American deficits will not return to what are widely considered sustainable levels over the next 10 years. In fact, in 2019 and 2020 — years after Mr. Obama has left the political scene, even if he serves two terms — they start rising again sharply, to more than 5 percent of gross domestic product. His budget draws a picture of a nation that like many American homeowners simply cannot get above water.

What is noteworthy is that it comes from the New York Times. It is a stark statement from the media outlet most sympathetic to the administration that the budget is both deeply dishonest and deeply irresponsible. David Sanger nails it when he says:

Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors. Beyond that lies the possibility that the United States could begin to suffer the same disease that has afflicted Japan over the past decade. As debt grew more rapidly than income, that country’s influence around the world eroded.

Nor is Obama going to get away with passing this all off on his predecessors. (“with this budget, Mr. Obama now owns this deficit”).

Once again we see the chasim between Obama’s rhetoric and his governance. In the SOTU he delivers a stirring call for fiscal sobriety: “But understand—if we do not take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery—all of which could have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.” But a week later he delivers a budget that has a 5.7 percent increase in spending over last year’s huge budget and that will launch a path of unsustainable debt, with an ever increasing tax burden on those on whom we must rely to generate economic growth and jobs.

Gerald Seib, not a fire-breathing conservative either, makes the national security argument:

These numbers are often discussed as an economic and domestic problem. But it’s time to start thinking of the ramifications for America’s ability to continue playing its traditional global role.

The U.S. government this year will borrow one of every three dollars it spends, with many of those funds coming from foreign countries. That weakens America’s standing and its freedom to act; strengthens China and other world powers including cash-rich oil producers; puts long-term defense spending at risk; undermines the power of the American system as a model for developing countries; and reduces the aura of power that has been a great intangible asset for presidents for more than a century.

And this is the nub of the problem for Obama. At some point—now, I think—the rhetoric runs out and there are just facts left. He is president, not George W. Bush. His budget is a garngantuan and unsustainable recipe for sucking more and more resources out of the private sector, leaving us deeper in debt than ever. Pundits across the political spectrum and, more critically, voters expect him to align his speeches with his policy agenda and work on solving our problems. Yet he seems incapable of doing more than giving the good speech. When it comes to governance, he simply recycles the same shopworn tax-and-spend liberal policies. But now, the public has reached the point where they expect more. They expect Obama not to pawn off issues on others, or delegate his agenda to Congress, or slip by on trickery (Matt Continetti points out that the discretionary budget freeze comes after an 84 percent hike in discretionary spending last year). If the 2011 budget is any indication, Obama is simply not up to the task.

Read Less

The Policy of Condolence Cards

The death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali and the ensuing enormous public demonstrations in Iran raise once again a troubling question about the incoherence of Obama’s Iran policy. Gerald Seib, ever so mildly, raises the issue:

Thus, the chance that Ayatollah Montazeri may take on in death an opposition role greater than the one he was playing in the final weeks of life. Odds are equally good that Mr. Ahmadinejad will try, perhaps brutally, to suppress that impulse. In either case, the developments pose a new test for President Barack Obama. He continues to try to deal with the Iranian regime while showing sympathy for the opposition movement that wants to be rid of it. That balancing act will get tougher as the U.S. moves next month toward more economic sanctions against Iran’s government to protest its nuclear program.

Translation: it’s hard to square Obama’s heartfelt words six months after the June 12 election with his consistent pattern of undermining the protesters and engaging — that is, bestowing legitimacy upon — their jailers.

The editors of Seib’s paper are more direct:

The foundation stones of Iran’s Islamic Republic were shaken again yesterday, showing that the largest antigovernment movement in its 30 years may be one of the biggest stories of next year as well. Now imagine the possibilities if the Obama Administration began to support Iran’s democrats. … Throughout this turbulent year in Iran, the White House has been behind the democratic curve. When the demonstrations started, Mr. Obama abdicated his moral authority by refusing to take sides, while pushing ahead with plans to negotiate a grand diplomatic bargain with Mr. Ahmadinejad that trades recognition for suspending the nuclear program.

So what are we doing? We’ve sent condolences to “Montazeri’s friends and family, which is what passes for democratic daring in this Administration.” But the administration still holds out hope that we can get the regime back to the bargaining table, if only they’d take us seriously. The obvious way to square Obama’s supposed concern for the democracy advocates and his alleged determination to halt Iran’s nuclear program would be to assist the Iranian people in obtaining a new government for themselves. So perhaps neither goal is really high on the Obami’s priority list. Perhaps they simply intend to “manage” the situation and will try to “deter” the rabid revolutionary regime. It seems unimaginable — except that it explains all their policy choices and rhetoric to date.

For now, we have a policy resting on insincerity and feebleness. The mullahs will act accordingly.

The death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali and the ensuing enormous public demonstrations in Iran raise once again a troubling question about the incoherence of Obama’s Iran policy. Gerald Seib, ever so mildly, raises the issue:

Thus, the chance that Ayatollah Montazeri may take on in death an opposition role greater than the one he was playing in the final weeks of life. Odds are equally good that Mr. Ahmadinejad will try, perhaps brutally, to suppress that impulse. In either case, the developments pose a new test for President Barack Obama. He continues to try to deal with the Iranian regime while showing sympathy for the opposition movement that wants to be rid of it. That balancing act will get tougher as the U.S. moves next month toward more economic sanctions against Iran’s government to protest its nuclear program.

Translation: it’s hard to square Obama’s heartfelt words six months after the June 12 election with his consistent pattern of undermining the protesters and engaging — that is, bestowing legitimacy upon — their jailers.

The editors of Seib’s paper are more direct:

The foundation stones of Iran’s Islamic Republic were shaken again yesterday, showing that the largest antigovernment movement in its 30 years may be one of the biggest stories of next year as well. Now imagine the possibilities if the Obama Administration began to support Iran’s democrats. … Throughout this turbulent year in Iran, the White House has been behind the democratic curve. When the demonstrations started, Mr. Obama abdicated his moral authority by refusing to take sides, while pushing ahead with plans to negotiate a grand diplomatic bargain with Mr. Ahmadinejad that trades recognition for suspending the nuclear program.

So what are we doing? We’ve sent condolences to “Montazeri’s friends and family, which is what passes for democratic daring in this Administration.” But the administration still holds out hope that we can get the regime back to the bargaining table, if only they’d take us seriously. The obvious way to square Obama’s supposed concern for the democracy advocates and his alleged determination to halt Iran’s nuclear program would be to assist the Iranian people in obtaining a new government for themselves. So perhaps neither goal is really high on the Obami’s priority list. Perhaps they simply intend to “manage” the situation and will try to “deter” the rabid revolutionary regime. It seems unimaginable — except that it explains all their policy choices and rhetoric to date.

For now, we have a policy resting on insincerity and feebleness. The mullahs will act accordingly.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.