August 8, 2011
"Tea Party Downgrade?" You Gotta Be Kidding
Of all the idiotic things that have come from John Kerry's mouth this takes the cake:
Er, no. Far from the Tea Party movement being responsible for the downgrade, they're the only ones pushing for the type of substantive change that would prevent a downgrade of our credit rating. Our debt problem has been growing for some time, but due to the policies of Barack Obama it is now totally out of control. The facts:
Obama Makes History (of Our AAA Credit)
August 8, 2011
The Obama administration and congressional Democrats are betting their political futures on the hope that the American electorate is ignorant and forgetful, and hence the memo has gone out to functionaries hither and yon, from David Axelrod to John Kerry: This is to be called the "tea-party downgrade." That this is said with straight faces bespeaks either an unshakable contempt for the mind of the American voter or an as-yet unplumbed capacity for Democratic self-delusion.
Let us revisit the facts. The original debt-ceiling deal put forward by the Democrats totaled $0.00 in debt reduction. This would have fallen approximately $4 trillion short of the $4 trillion in debt reduction the credit-rating agencies suggested would constitute a "credible" step toward maintaining our AAA rating and avoiding a downgrade. This $0.00 program was the so-called "clean" debt-ceiling bill -- the one that contained not a farthing of debt reduction. Bad as it was, Republicans agreed to give Democrats a vote on it. Some 82 Democrats and every Republican voted against it, and for good reason: Doing nothing at all is hardly a "credible" program.
The Democrats have suggested that Republicans' refusal to accede to tax hikes is the main reason Standard & Poor's felt it necessary to issue a downgrade, the first in American history, last Friday evening. In their assessment of Standard & Poor's reasoning, the Democrats are acutely at odds with Standard & Poor's. The credit-rating agency did not call for tax hikes in its assessment: "Standard & Poor's takes no position on the mix of spending and revenue measures that Congress and the Administration might conclude is appropriate for putting the U.S.'s finances on a sustainable footing." No position on tax hikes. But S&P, along with the other credit-rating agencies, has long taken a position on one aspect of our fiscal troubles: entitlement reform. From S&P again: "The plan envisions only minor policy changes on Medicare and little change in other entitlements, the containment of which we and most other independent observers regard as key to long-term fiscal sustainability."
As anybody who has looked at our long-term deficit projections knows, entitlement spending is the major driver of our future deficits. With unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare already running into trillions of dollars -- many multiples of our GDP -- it is implausible that taxes would be raised sufficiently to meet those obligations. Sustaining present spending levels over coming decades while maintaining current levels of debt would mean nearly doubling every federal tax: income, payroll, inheritance, excises, etc. To repeat: That's to maintain current debt levels, not to reduce them. Even if the political will existed to inflict such tax increases on the American people, doing so would prove economically ruinous. Entitlement reform, then -- not taxes, not President Obama's fictitious "balanced approach" -- is rightly understood, as S&P argues, as the "key to long-term fiscal sustainability." Tea-party leaders, far from being a barrier to entitlement reform, have demanded it.
The main obstacle to reform is the gentleman who lives at at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and his legislative enablers down the street. Recall: Though Democrats controlled the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives from 2008-10, and therefore could have forced through any budget they saw fit, they left the nation with no budget at all -- much less a reformed or balanced one -- never bothering to pass one in the year before they lost their House majority. Though congressional Democrats could not be bothered, President Obama did submit a 2011 budget. It contained $0.00 toward entitlement reform. He soon disavowed his own budget proposal. The president later gave a speech in which he said he'd like to see $4 trillion in deficit-reduction, but submitted no budget or other legislation to accompany that rhetoric. The head of the Congressional Budget Office, a Democrat, was moved to observe dryly that his agency "does not score speeches."
But the CBO does score legislative proposals, and gave good marks to a bipartisan proposal offered by the president's own hand-picked deficit-reduction panel. The presidential commission offered a credible plan, one that even included the tax increases so beloved of this administration. Naturally, the president disavowed his own commission's proposal, just as he would disavow his own budget proposal. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi declared it "dead on arrival" in the House. The plan was angrily rejected by congressional Democrats precisely and specifically because it contained modest entitlement-reform proposals. Likewise, Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal, which would have brought health-care entitlement spending down to sustainable levels while making key reforms to improve the performance of those programs, passed the House only to be rejected out of hand by Sen. Harry Reid and his Democratic colleagues, precisely because it contained entitlement reforms. It would have cut some $4.4 trillion off of the deficits over a decade, well beyond the $4 trillion mark suggested by the credit-rating agencies. But Democrats would have none of it.
The deal that finally did pass would have contained significantly more in deficit-reduction, except for the fact that Democrats categorically refused to consider -- is this sounding familiar? -- entitlement reform, the most important issue.
Content to offer blind opposition, the Obama administration never put forward a detailed plan of its own, though it insisted it had one, a fact that resulted in a moment of unintentional comedy when White House press secretary Jay Carney irritatedly asked unconvinced reporters: "You need it written down?" When it comes to the Obama administration and spending restraint, the American people have every reason to demand that the president put it in writing.
And so we are led to this sorry pass. We are sympathetic to protests that S&P may have reacted more strongly to the political drama surrounding the debt-ceiling debate than was justified by the underlying economics: Despite the troubles in the eurozone, which are quite severe, Germany and France currently boast of higher credit ratings than that of the United States, a nation that accounts for nearly a quarter of the world's economic output. But even those who believe S&P has overreacted must concede that the finances of the United States have been considerably weakened since 2008. Obama's deficits have been unprecedented in peacetime, and this downgrade is unprecedented for our nation, at war or at peace. Its effects remain unknown at this time, but its causes do not: S&P spelled out its reasoning quite clearly.
Entitlement reform is the "key issue." The Tea Party is not standing in the way of entitlement reform. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid are. Democrats believe that they have discovered a cartoon villain in the Tea Party, and they are hoping that American voters are gullible enough to be distracted by the political theatrics. Come November 2012, Americans should keep in mind both the insult and the injury -- to the nation and its credit. President Obama has indeed "made history," as he promised, but not the sort that we might have hoped for.
August 7, 2011
Disorientation Week for the Democrats
August 5, 2011
This is Disorientation Week in Washington. From the White House to the Hill, the Democrats are trying (but not trying too hard) to come to terms with a new reality. Attitude-adjustment hour is sometimes no fun at all.
Vice President Joe Biden, who suffers terminal hoof-in-mouth disease, thinks the tea party folks are "terrorists," though the next day he said he didn't really say what everybody else in the room heard him say. Barack Obama, weary of trying to explain away good ol' Joe's frequent civility lapses, seems to be losing patience with his man for all rainy seasons.
When a reporter asked the presidential press flack whether Mr. Obama thinks calling Americans who disagree with him "terrorists" is "appropriate," the flack replied: "No, he doesn't, and neither does the vice president. ... Any kind of comments like that are simply not conducive to the kind of political discourse that we hope to have."
Such dodging and weaving in the wake of dispensing insult and invective is not the way Washington is supposed to work. Conservatives, both mainstream and from the smaller tributaries of "political discourse," are expected to lift their caps, tug their forelocks, and thank Mr. Obama for helpful reproof. But the debt debate has changed all that. The hard-line Republicans in the House invited their tormentors on the left to take their best shots and the tea pot is still right side up.
What we're getting now is the uncivilized civility of disbelieving Democrats. Steny H. Hoyer, the whip of the minority in the House and chief metaphor mixmaster, accuses the Republicans of playing Russian roulette with "all the chambers ... loaded," who "want to shoot every bullet they have at the president." Someone should explain the rules of Russian roulette to Mr. Hoyer. The players aim the gun to their own heads, not to the head of someone else. Rep. Melvin L. Watt of North Carolina says the legislation adopted under tea party pressure "literally holds a gun to the head of the economy of the United States of America." That's not quite right, either, but if you're disoriented that may be as close as a man can get.
Steven Rattner, who was once an economist in the Obama White House and is still disoriented from the experience, recalls the Republican bargaining tactics as "a form of economic terrorism." Whatever it is that he's smoking, it's giving him bad dreams and terrifying visions. "I imagine these tea party guys are like strapped with dynamite standing in the middle of Times Square at rush hour and saying, 'Either you do it my way or we are going to blow you up, ourselves up and the whole country up with us.' " Mr. Rattner is so disoriented that he thinks the nation's capital is still in New York.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, is the most disoriented of all. Try diagramming these sentences by Debbie: "Well, we're going to focus on what we know is the number one priorities [sic] on Americans' minds right now, that is creating jobs and continuing to get this economy turned around. If we have to drag the Republicans with us, then we'll do that, but, you know, it's been a whole lot of months, eight months they have controlled the House with no jobs bills coming to the floor. Hopefully now with this compromise on the debt ceiling behind us, with the opportunity, with the commission, to sit down and focus on longer-term deficit reduction that will have some balance and ask some sacrifice for our most fortunate in addition to the middle class that we're going to be able to get everyone on the same page that it's jobs." Good luck with the diagrams.
Sen. Harry Reid, who acts as if he got well and truly disoriented by House Speaker John A. Boehner, is upset now because he's afraid he'll be out-maneuvered by the Republicans on the so-called "supercommittee" on cuts that must come up with another $1.5 trillion in savings before Christmas. He complained to Politico, the Capitol Hill daily, that the Republicans say that none of their six members of the supercommittee will want to raise taxes. "So what does that leave the committee to do? Should [Nancy] Pelosi and I just not appoint and walk away?"
Mr. Reid thinks he has a cure for Democratic disorientation. He would feel a lot better if the press would quit reporting news of bad people. "When reporting on political disputes always implies both sides are to blame, there's no penalty for extremism." Disorientation runs deep. We must be patient.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
August 4, 2011
Spare Us the Sermons, Mr. President
Once again, VDH hits it out of the park
Spare Us the Sermons, Mr. President
And explain why your policies aren't working.
August 4, 2011
Victor Davis Hanson
During the recent debt crisis, President Obama talked about the need for bipartisan compromise and, as in the past, he urged civility. Giving ground and engaging in polite discourse, of course, can be noble aims. But, like most one-eyed-jack politicians, Obama has rarely embraced the admirable qualities he advocates -- a fact increasingly evident to a skeptical public.
In 2006, then-senator Obama voted against the Bush administration's request to raise the debt ceiling -- when the national debt was about 60 percent of what it is now. He did not show up for similar votes in 2007 and 2008. In that regard, Senate majority leader Harry Reid opposed every request when Republicans were in control of the Senate to raise the debt ceiling. Of course, such an unthinking party-line voter is exactly the sort of partisan senator or congressman that President Obama now deplores.
In fact, in 2007 the National Journal found that Obama's voting record was the most partisan in the entire U.S. Senate -- farther to the hard-line left than the Senate's only self-described socialist, Bernie Sanders, and more predictably partisan than even the most consistently conservative senator that year, Jim DeMint. At the time, Senator Obama unapologetically wished to advance a hardcore liberal agenda, and he saw no reason to backtrack from it or compromise on it.
President Obama has repeatedly derided the sort of Republican partisanship that led the current minority party in the Senate to filibuster some of his appointments -- most prominently his nomination of Goodwin Liu to the federal bench. But Senator Obama not long ago strongly advocated such partisan obstructionism; while out of power he praised the filibuster as much as he now deplores it while in power. Indeed, he joined a filibuster to deny votes on the nominations of both Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court and John Bolton to the U.N. ambassadorship.
After the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D., Ariz.), President Obama made yet another call for a new civility, urging us all to tone down our partisan rhetoric. But slash-and-burn talk is unfortunately the mother's milk of politics -- and no one knows that better than Chicago politician and apparent amnesiac Barack Obama, who as a state legislator, U.S. senator, and president has always excelled in the use of uncivil rhetoric and personal invective.
During the last three years, in almost every debate -- deficit reduction, taxes, illegal immigration -- Obama has smeared the motives of his political opponents. He suggested that critics of illegal immigration wished to add moats and alligators to help close the border and that they planned to arrest parents and children on their way to get ice cream. He advised that Latinos "should punish our enemies." He accused opponents who wanted balanced budgets of abandoning children suffering from autism and Down syndrome.
Obama's partisan rhetoric has always been rough. He called his political adversaries on taxes and the debt "hostage takers" who engaged in "hand-to-hand combat," and needed to be relegated to the proverbial back seat. Obama even suggested that AIG executives were metaphorical terrorists: "They've got a bomb strapped to them and they've got their hand on the trigger."
In an appeal to voters, Obama urged that they not act calmly, but get angry: "I don't want to quell anger. I think people are right to be angry!" The polarizing talk was the logical follow-up to his campaign hype of 2008, when he ridiculed the "clingers" of Pennsylvania, called on his supporters to confront his opponents and "get in their face," and at one point even boasted, "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." His jokes about Nancy Reagan and the Special Olympics were needlessly tasteless and crass.
Obama's inflammatory language and tough metaphors are not all that unusual in the American political tradition. But what is odd is that a habitual participant in brass-knuckles political combat should call for the sort of civility that he himself did not and will not abide by.
We are now engaged in a continuing debate about debt, taxes, and spending. Both sides have vastly different ideas about how to solve our financial problems, and they will continue to embrace tough talk to win over public opinion to their respective sides. We hope for the best argumentation but expect the worst -- democratic politics being what it is. And President Obama, the past master of bare-fisted partisan invective, knows that better than anyone.
So spare us any more of the bottled piety, Mr. President. Instead, just make the argument to the public that borrowing $4 billion a day is still necessary and sustainable -- and explain how it came to be that this post-recession recovery on your watch is the weakest since World War II.
-- Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern. © 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
Egypt's Revolution in Tatters
It looks like the "Arab Spring" is going downhill and fast. Social forces are powerful things, and when unleashed you never know where they're going. Sometimes it all works out for the better, but often not. Sitting Egypt is headed in the wrong direction.
All very sad. Some will take mutter that "well what did we expect, those people are just that way." Others will say "there is nothing we could have done." See the comments section of the article for examples of both.
I don't quite agree with either sentiment. No doubt that some societies, cultures, and yes, religions, are much more resistant to Western concepts of democracy and liberty than others. But not to a degree that it's an impossible task. And while we are hardly omnipotent in our ability to make things turn out the way we want them, neither are we powerless to give history a nudge.
Egypt's Revolution in Tatters
August 2, 2011
The forcible expulsion of young, secular protesters from their encampment in Cairo's Tahrir Square -- with the enthusiastic help of ordinary Egyptians -- has the feeling of a watershed moment. So does the imminent appearance of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in an iron cage to stand trial on live television.
The young, secular protesters in Tahrir Square have been badly outmaneuvered in a three-way contest between themselves, the ruling military council, and the country's rising Islamists. The optimistic view of the revolution held that Egypt's Islamists were artificially propped up by their status as the only available outlet for anti-regime sentiment. Supposedly, the Islamists were destined to decline as a raft of newly empowered democratic parties sparked the enthusiasm of the public.
The truth was the opposite. Once government suppression of the Islamists was lifted, they were legitimized and empowered. The military regime struck up an informal alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, as defense against the students' desire to strip the military of its business interests and power. The Obama administration's openly expressed willingness to work with the Muslim Brotherhood -- implicitly refusing to hold American aid hostage to keeping the Islamists in check -- removed the last potential obstacle to an Islamist renaissance. The result was the recent immense demonstration in which, not only the Muslim Brotherhood but a wide array of even harder-line Islamists turned on the badly outnumbered students, demanding an end to secularism and a fully Islamic state.
The supposedly secular and liberal pro-democracy protesters were never particularly liberal at all. Rather, they are a motley collection of hard-leftists and Arab nationalists, with only a very few "liberals" mixed in, many of whom would barely be recognizable as liberals to most Westerners. These protesters have deluded themselves into believing that the broader Egyptian public stands with them. That delusion is protected, above all, by the refusal of the supposed pro-democracy forces to organize a serious political coalition and undertake an aggressive campaign to contest the upcoming elections. The protesters keep asking for electoral delays so as to give them more time to organize against the Islamists, yet they never seem to leave Tahrir Square to actually take their case to the people.
The truth is that the Tahrir protesters are less democrats than a new incarnation of the Arab street, more equipped and inclined to achieve their goals through rabble-rousing than through modern electoral politics. Sensing that they cannot defeat the Islamists at the ballot box, their strategy has been to rally the people to their side with demands to put Mubarak and his cronies on trial. The hope is to energize public anger, discredit the remnants of the old regime still clinging to power, force the military to adopt a secular bill of rights before an Islamist-dominated parliament can re-write the constitution, and ultimately push the military rulers aside.
This strategy is yet another hopeless dream of seizing power with no real base from which to work. The recent demonstrations organized by the secularists were supposed to recruit the Islamists to their agenda of putting the old regime on trial and undercutting the military. That failed when the Islamists refused to be co-opted and turned on the secularists. Meanwhile, the broader Egyptian public has also turned sharply against the protesters. The ongoing street disruptions have killed off Egypt's essential tourist industry, hollowed out an already disastrously weak economy, kept the police forces in disarray, and generally kept the country barely functional for months. That's why the public joined in to help the military eject the demonstrators from Tahrir Square just a day before Mubarak's trial.
Now Mubarak will appear in his cage, but with the students out of Tahrir Square and unable to rally the public against the regime. Quite possibly, after a day or two of spectacle, the trial will go into recess. The revolutionists will have been checkmated, and a government run jointly by the military and the Islamists will be left to take root. No doubt, Egypt's Islamists now look to Turkey as a model for how to undercut the military over time. They will be patient, while enjoying substantial power in the meantime.
We are a long way from liberal democracy in Egypt. And as Egypt goes, so goes the Arab Spring.