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Hope in the Deep Freeze

Posted on Jan 28, 2010

By Joe Conason

On the eve of his first State of the Union address, Barack Obama confided that he would “rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.” But his proposal to freeze domestic spending is exactly the kind of policy that could result in four years of stagnation—rewarded by an election defeat at the hands of dispirited and disillusioned voters. If he continues to surrender his mandate, he just might become a mediocre one-term president.

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In Obama’s remark to ABC News, there was a hint of self-righteous vanity, as if to suggest that he is already somehow exceeding his two predecessors, each of whom served two terms. Actually, he has yet to display the political moxie of either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, both presidents who managed to push through much of their agendas—for better and worse—regardless of the circumstances they faced. By contrast, Obama has too often allowed his priorities to languish and his supporters to despair in a void of “bipartisanship.”

The most troubling example yet is his sudden turn toward a spending freeze, which appears to be nothing more than pandering to the angry right. There are many reasons why this will not work as policy or politics, beginning with the nature of the proposal and concluding with its certain impact.

By exempting the military, homeland security, veterans and international affairs, the plan will affect less than one-fifth of the entire federal budget, total less than 3 percent annually and save about $25 billion per year over the coming decade. The president’s conservative critics in Congress and the media will eagerly and easily lampoon this level of cutting as insignificant and insufficient (although the Republicans will offer no realistic alternative).

As a sop to citizens concerned about the deficit, the Obama freeze is unlikely to make any impression. It smacks of a cynical gesture designed to respond to the latest polls.


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Worse than the politics is the premature decision to reduce the deficit, which directly contradicts the logic of the stimulus program adopted by the president upon assuming his office and undermines the impact of that program. Small as the freeze is, the cuts in spending will nevertheless reduce economic demand at a time when unemployment, low wages and declining benefits continue to devastate the middle class and working poor.

Reducing deficits is sound policy, of course, in times of steady growth. But as Obama’s own economic team understands, the “common sense” that urges us to balance the budget every year like any household actually makes no sense for government at all. Historically, America has won wars, built the nation and spread prosperity through deficit spending—and then returned to balanced budgets when deficits were no longer required to stimulate growth. Both the debt and the deficit following World War II were much higher than today in real terms, and were drastically reduced by growth rather than austerity.

At least, that is what Democrats believe—or are supposed to believe. Even the budget-balancing Democrats of the Clinton era have endorsed higher deficits during the Great Recession because there is simply no other source of economic stimulation when banks refuse to lend, consumers won’t consume and businesses cut employment.

What is Obama’s excuse for crushing the hopes of his supporters and forfeiting the argument to his enemies? He cannot cite rising interest rates or consumer price indexes to prove that the deficit should suddenly become his top priority. Inflation and interest rates remain reasonably stable so far—and so does stubborn unemployment, despite signs that the recession has ended. The only thing that has changed since last year’s State of the Union address is the political situation confronting the president, to which he now responds with meek resignation.

There is no such thing as “a really good one-term president.” A really good president sticks to principle, fights for progressive policy, improves people’s lives and wins re-election. After one year, that is what Americans still expect of Obama. He has no right to disappoint them.

Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer.


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By Miles Gloriosus, January 30, 2010 at 9:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Joe: I hope this isn’t to far off subject, but ya know what Barack needs to do to win back support with ALL of the American public? Lead the charge for real campaign finance reform. Get rid of ALL private money in campaigns for office. Make them all publicly financed.

For years people have been saying the only way to clean up Washington was to eliminate private contributions by individuals or corporations to political candidates, yet there had never been a popular, wide-spread groundswell throughout the country for it, so nothing was done. Well, guess what? By their decision to remove limits to corporate contributions, the SCOTUS has reignited interest in this idea among the entire damn country.

If, since they are “persons,” corporations are allowed to dump excessive amounts of money into political campaigns, because doing so would infringe on their rights of personhood, if we eliminate the “right” of all citizens, i.e. private citizens and corporations, to make any sort of monetary contributions to political campaigns, and fund them with public monies instead, we’ve successfully leveled the playing field in a way that we haven’t seen for decades. By making financing public, corporations are not being singled out, so their rights are NOT being infringed.

Right now, because of the anger citizens from all sectors of the political spectrum now hold toward the SCOTUS’s decision this would be very popular. Not only would we be able to effecively start to hobble lobbies like Big Pharma, who with their hundreds of millions of dollars drown out the voices of average Americans demanding real healthcare reform, we’d also finally be able to fight back against the Chamber of Commerece Lobby who, with their unbridled support of “free” trade, is working to gut the American middle class or foreign lobbies like AIPAC who with their deep pockets insure that we continue to have an unfair and biased foreign policy in the Middle East.

If Obama championed public financing of political campaigns and effectively gutted the power of big money, he would not only return America to a more democratic state, but he would win accolades across the ENTIRE political spectrum.

If he were to play this card right and to play it effectively, he would not only win handily in 2010 and 2012, he would go down in history as one of America’s greatest presidents.

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By @CT, January 28, 2010 at 3:48 pm Link to this comment

Hammond Eggs writes:

“[Obama] will slink out of the White House in January 2013 to write some phony book and sit on the boards of numerous major corporations and further enrich himself. And all the while, he will talk, talk, talk.  His voice is now comparable to an ice pick in the ear.”

It was as if we were being lectured on marital fidelity by John Edwards or Mark Sanford.
A Self-Reverential State of the Union Address

Calling for applause for himself may have been a new low. It’s embarrassing—the only ho-ho-hope to avoid three more years of it: some unsavory fellow rousts him from the closet, New Jersey style, Jesse Jackson turns on him with the real bio, he goes publicly on the nod in mid-bla.

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By Hammond Eggs, January 28, 2010 at 1:10 pm Link to this comment

By Samson, January 28 at 4:52 pm #

I’m sick of lying, deceiving Democrats.  Obama’s just another one.  And Dean will be the next one if people continue to fall for this same con over and over and over.

If there are any of you out there like SoTexGuy who still harbor any sympathy or belief in Obama and the Democrats, I urge you, I plead with you, to forget it, drop it.  There is no Democratic party any longer.  There is simply a collection of grasping, yuppie reactionaries who call themselves Democrats.  They deserve neither your trust nor your esteem.  Don’t vote for them; don’t give them money; let them die!

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By Samson, January 28, 2010 at 12:55 pm Link to this comment

Notice how you’ll never hear the word ‘deficit’ when the topic is military spending or the wars.

There are two main factors driving up our deficits. The trillion dollars or so a year we spend on ‘defense’ and these wars.  And the trillions or so dollars that they just handed over to wall street.

So, naturally Obama wants ordinary Americans to pay the cost of these deficits.

We need to end these wars, which would chop a few hundred billion off the deficits in one step.  And then we need to cut back on our military budget which already exceeds what the rest of the world combined spends.

We could shave a half a trillion dollars off the deficit with those two easy steps.

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By Samson, January 28, 2010 at 12:52 pm Link to this comment

By the way, I’m a cynic because I’ve seen all this before.

In 92, Clinton ran against Bush Sr. talking about how its ‘the economy, stupid’ and promising to make the economy work for ordinary Americans and promising to reduce the gap between rich and poor that had widened during Reagan/Bush.

By the time he got to Washington, all of this was forgotten and he was speaking the Wall Street party-line that the big problem was the deficits.  So, every program idea that might have helped ordinary Americans was junked in favor of ‘deficit reduction’.  So, we got the ‘jobless recovery’ and the gap between rich and poor widened even further under Clinton.  By the end of his term, he was happily pushing and signing the Gramm-Leach repeal of Glass-Steagel that was a main cause of the current crisis.

I’m sick of lying, deceiving Democrats.  Obama’s just another one.  And Dean will be the next one if people continue to fall for this same con over and over and over.

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By Samson, January 28, 2010 at 12:46 pm Link to this comment

When will people figure out that all the Democrats lie.

Its the basic nature of today’s Democratic party. They take millions from big business.  And obviously promise to do their bidding once elected.  Then they lie their rears off to the voters pretending to be different than the other big business party.

Dean is a con.  The idea behind Dean right now is that some Democrats see everyone left of Reagan upset with them. So, they create the next big con by taking the guy who was the Democrats chief corporate fund-raiser (as party chair) and now suddenly pretending he’s the progressive alternative.

Yeah right.  How many times will people fall for the same con?

I’ll believe Dean is different if he says he’ll restrict all donations to his campaign to $100 or less.  Then I’ll know he’s not taking big corporate money.  Otherwise, its just the same con again.

Follow the money. 

Never vote for any candidate that has the money to run lots of TV ads.  That’s always corporate money so just seeing the TV ads tells you that the candidate is bought off.  Remember, there’s almost always more than two names on the ballot.

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By SoTexGuy, January 28, 2010 at 12:43 pm Link to this comment

I’m not giving up on Obama though I too am disappointed with things done and not done under his leadership.

One particular thing Obama has done that I see as totally unwise .. he has allowed the alienation of much of the broad coalition of people and politics he rode into office. Many people I know who now are openly disgusted with him were his most ardent supporters in 2008. Those on the right or wherever that hated him still hate him.. and for most of the same reasons. Where exactly will his new support come from?

He may be a political genius with a plan in his pocket to pull it all together again at the proper moment.. or maybe I should say he had better be such. Or it could be four and out for him and who-knows-what brought in out of the deep right.. and put back at the helm.

The situation is not rosy.

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By Hammond Eggs, January 28, 2010 at 12:03 pm Link to this comment

On the eve of his first State of the Union address, Barack Obama confided that he would “rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.”

Obama will be neither.  He will be one of the grandest and most disastrous one term failures in U.S. presidential history.  He will slink out of the White House in January 2013 to write some phony book and sit on the boards of numerous major corporations and further enrich himself.  And all the while, he will talk, talk, talk.  His voice is now comparable to an ice pick in the ear.

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By gerard, January 28, 2010 at 11:00 am Link to this comment

Didn’t get it with me.  And when the “American exceptionalism” started rolling out, I thought I should turn him off.  This national conceit prevents us from even acknowledging our mistakes, let alone learning from them.

Also the general lack of vision is appalling. The world and the country so need a fresh, different, more creative and humane WAY OF THINKING AND BEHAVING.!!!  Oh well.  Sic transit gloria, as they say.

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By @CT, January 28, 2010 at 10:19 am Link to this comment

“he just might become a mediocre one-term president.”

Will he manage to work his way back up to “mediocre” in a mere three years? Doubt it.

Dump Obama / Draft Dean

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By P. T., January 28, 2010 at 10:12 am Link to this comment

What looks worrisome is that, to appease conservatives, defense spending (military Keynesianism) will be the vehicle used for economic stimulus.

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By bozh, January 28, 2010 at 9:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Withdrawing all of the troops from iraq ?2011 does not=withdrawing all americans from iraq.
So, socalled private army wld stay. In fact,even regular soldiers, US governance, and US gov’ts are in private hands.

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By Super Lou, January 28, 2010 at 9:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The cynical, mean-spirited “freeze” is just the beginning.  The President is hard at work behind the scenes to put his “Bipartisan Commission” in place.  You know anytime the word “bipartisan” parses the President’s lips, you are about to get a load of shit dropped on your head.  Here’s all you need to know about the “Commish.”  Read em and weep:

“The substantive policies that Obama advanced represented a continuation and deepening of his right-wing agenda. In the name of creating jobs and improving the lot of the people, Obama called for a three-year freeze on social spending, while ruling out any reduction in the gargantuan budgets for war and “homeland security.”

This is a mere down payment for the more serious task of gutting core social programs—Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. To begin that job, Obama announced the establishment of a bipartisan commission to propose spending cuts and taxes on consumption.”

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By RdV, January 28, 2010 at 8:57 am Link to this comment

This is actually a pretty good article coming from inside the beltway. Enough to have some hope that they are catching on.

  Never forget Obama’s political appointments—it always keeps things in perspective. The health insurance reform was a regressive plan hacking away at Medicare “waste”—and all the Democrats jumped aboard, framing it as “waste”. But the seniors, the most reliable voting bloc, knew the score early on—and Obama is up to the same backroom deals to slash “entitlements”—social security and medicare with his freezes and panels. Ironically, if you listened to Brown, he was scoring political points with the rhetoric of “saving medicare”. Democrats who ignore this dynamic, do so at their own peril. They will deserve to go down and it is time for us to rise against them, staring with an uncompromised denounciation of Obama and his cynical posturing as one of us rather than one of them.

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By Paul_GA, January 28, 2010 at 8:40 am Link to this comment

Well, I’ve always thought James K. Polk was a “really good one-term president”; he promised to serve only one term, and in that time, he beat Mexico, won control of Texas, California and most of the Southwest, and resolved the Oregon Boundary Crisis with Britain (you might recall this—“54-40 or Fight”; but Polk compromised at the current boundary). Then he retired, and had the good fortune to pass on just three months after leaving power. To paraphrase Nietzsche, some die too late, some die too soon, but Polk managed to die at the right time.

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By Samson, January 28, 2010 at 7:32 am Link to this comment

Well, now we see the ‘hope’ Obama was talking about.

—War spending continues and allowed to grow.
—Military spending continues and allowed to grow.
—‘Intelligence’ spending continues and allowed to grow.
—‘homeland security’ spending continues and allowed to grow.

On the other side ....

—Programs that actually help people .... FREEZE THIS!  Make these people balance our budget!
—Health care ... profits guaranteed, health care not.

Boy, I’m sure glad we elected the Democrats to get a change from what Bush was offering.

So, which party do we elect if we want to end the wars and cut the military budget and spend the money instead helping Americans?  It sure ain’t the Democrats.

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