Bad luck? Bad faith? Or bad leadership?
—President Obama, Decorah, Iowa, Aug. 15
A troubled nation wonders: How did we get mired in 9.1 percent unemployment, 0.9 percent growth and an economic outlook so bad that the Federal Reserve pledges to keep interest rates at zero through mid-2013—an admission that it sees little hope on the horizon?
Bad luck, explains our president. Out of nowhere came Japan and its supply-chain disruptions, Europe and its debt problems, the Arab Spring and those oil spikes. Kicked off, presumably, by various acts of God (should he not be held accountable, too?): earthquake and tsunami. (Tomorrow: pestilence and famine. Maybe frogs.)
Well, yes, but what leader is not subject to external events? Were the minor disruptions of the current Arab Spring remotely as damaging as the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74? Were the supply disruptions of Japan 2011 anything like the Asian financial collapse of 1997-98? Events happen. Leaders are elected to lead (from the front, incidentally). That means dealing with events, not plaintively claiming to be their victim.
Moreover, luck is the residue of design, as Branch Rickey immortally observed. And Obama’s design for the economy was a near-$1 trillion stimulus that left not a trace, the heavy hand of Obamacare and a flurry of regulatory zeal that seeks to stifle everything from domestic energy production to Boeing’s manufacturing expansion into South Carolina.
He sowed, he reaps.
In Obama’s recounting, however, luck is only half the story. His economic recovery was ruined not just by acts of God and (foreign) men, but by Americans who care nothing for their country. These people, who inhabit Congress (guess what party?), refuse to set aside “politics” for the good of the nation. They serve special interests and lobbyists, care only about the next election, place party ahead of country. Indeed, they “would rather see their opponents lose than see America win.” The blaggards!
For weeks, these calumnies have been Obama staples. Calumnies, because they give not an iota of credit to the opposition for trying to promote the public good, as presumably Obama does, but from different premises and principles. Calumnies, because they deny the legitimacy to those on the other side of the great national debate about the size and scope and reach of government.
Charging one’s opponents with bad faith is the ultimate political ad hominem. It obviates argument, fact, logic, history. Conservatives resist Obama’s social-democratic, avowedly transformational agenda not just on principle but on empirical grounds, as well—the economic and moral unraveling of Europe’s social-democratic experiment, on display today from Athens to the streets of London.
Obama’s answer? He doesn’t even engage. That’s the point of these ugly accusations of bad faith. They are the equivalent of branding Republicans enemies of the people. Gov. Rick Perry has been rightly chided for throwing around the word “treasonous” in reference to the Fed. Obama gets a pass for doing the same, only slightly more artfully, regarding Republicans. After all, he is accusing them of wishing to see America fail for their own political gain. What is that if not a charge of betraying one’s country?
The charge is not just ugly. It’s laughable. All but five Republican members of the House—moderate, establishment, tea party, freshmen alike—voted for a budget containing radical Medicare reform knowing it could very well end many of their careers. Democrats launched gleefully into Mediscare attacks, hardly believing their luck that Republicans should have proposed something so politically risky in pursuit of fiscal solvency. Yet Obama accuses Republicans of acting for nothing but partisan advantage.
This from a man who has cagily refused to propose a single structural reform to entitlements in his three years in office. A man who ordered that the Afghan surge be unwound by September 2012, a date that makes no military sense (it occurs during the fighting season), a date not recommended by his commanders, a date whose sole purpose is to give Obama political relief on the eve of the 2012 election. And Obama dares accuse others of placing politics above country?
A plague of bad luck and bad faith—a recalcitrant providence and an unpatriotic opposition. Our president wrestles with angels, monsters of mythic proportions.
A comforting fantasy. But a sorry excuse for a failing economy and a flailing presidency.
Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for the Washington Post. His email address is email@example.com.