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Obama’s Budget and Our Potemkin Politics

After President Obama’s State of the Union address, I noted that even partisan-left media outlets were unwilling to play along with Obama’s self-serving framing of his foreign policy. Now Obama’s getting the same treatment on domestic policy as well. It’s a rude awakening for a president so accustomed to being treated with kid gloves by an adoring media, and a sure sign he’s officially a lame duck.

Obama has released his proposed budget, and commentators have been mostly unable to stifle their disbelief. To be fair, part of the reason Obama’s budget is so unrealistic is that the Republicans currently control Congress, so it has no chance of passing. But in truth, that probably doesn’t change its chances so much as it gives the president and his party’s populists an excuse to claim Republican intransigence. Many Democrats surely don’t want to be put in a position to vote for the taxman’s anthem that is this budget document.

Here, via the New York Times, are some of the ways it’s being received by the left. A Times reporter’s description of its content:

President Obama presented a budget on Monday that is more utopian vision than pragmatic blueprint. It proposes a politically improbable reshaping of the tax code and generous new social spending initiatives that would shift resources from the wealthy to the middle class.

The same reporter’s take on what it’s missing:

Absent from the plan is any pretense of trying to address the main drivers of the long-term debt — Social Security and Medicare — a quest that has long divided both parties and ultimately proved impossible. The document instead indicates that Mr. Obama, after years of being hemmed in on his fiscal priorities because of politics and balance sheets, feels newly free to outline an ambitious set of goals that will set the terms of a debate between Democrats and Republicans and shape the 2016 presidential election.

A former economic advisor to Vice President Biden’s opinion of it:

“It’s a visionary document and basically says, ‘You’re with me or you’re not,’ and we can have big philosophical arguments about the role of government, and perhaps in 2016 we will,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former top economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Back to the Times reporter on Obama the Bipartisan Healer:

Yet the budget confirms that for Mr. Obama, the era of searching for a “grand bargain” with Republicans on entitlements and spending — an exercise that alienated liberal Democrats who were loath to consider any measure to rein in Medicare and Social Security — is over.

And all this, believe it or not, is still a favorable reading of it. The Times repeats uncritically the president’s propagandistic declarations of “middle-class economics” and that the bill’s tax increases would hit “the rich” without investigating how these taxes and fees would end up on the shoulders of the “middle class”–to say nothing of the president’s own shots at confiscating middle-class cash, like his ill-fated 529 plan.

And it also takes as Gospel the idea that Obama has truly been searching, in good faith, for grand bipartisan solutions. The lesson of Obama’s first six years, with occasional exceptions, is that “bipartisan” to Obama means that Republicans vote for his policies. The Democrats have shown they can file legislation without Republican input and without Republican amendments with a clear conscience. And during the rare times when Democrats and Republicans really were negotiating in good faith for a deal, Obama showed a propensity to sabotage those talks or poison the well.

So it might be more accurate to say that the era of pretending to search for a “grand bargain” is officially over. And that, in its own way, is the one honest aspect of the budget. The rest is theater. And theater is, increasingly, what national politics has become.

There’s the State of the Union itself, which is clear pageantry made all the more intolerable by the orchestrated applause and non-applause, standing and sitting, laughing and scowling from the congressional audience. There are the presidential nominating conventions, which are devoid of drama of any kind. (Though the Democrats’ 2012 convention did have that one hectic unscripted moment when the party’s delegates angrily voted down adding pro-Israel language to the party’s platform.)

And now we have Potemkin budgets, constructed to look pretty but act as a façade to cover the ideological ruins behind it. Except by year seven the press gets tired of playing along, even for Obama.

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One Response to “Obama’s Budget and Our Potemkin Politics”

  1. BARRY MEISLIN says:

    One ought to use the term “lame duck” less and instead look at Obama as a wounded bear trying to defend his perverse, destructive policies.

    (Yes, metaphors—and language, despite the best efforts of this administration and its supporters—matter.)

    He still can do a lot of damage.

    And he intends to.

    Of course, he will continue to refer to such damage as “assistance”, “aid”, “improvements” and above all, “peace”.

    And the administration’s prevarication mill will keep on churning out those lies to continue to confuse, weaken and ultimately destroy his enemies.

    Yes, the White House version of “American Sniper”…

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