Hot and cold running fiscal responsibility
The Obama administration convening Monday’s fiscal responsibility summit is a little like Octo-mom running a family planning summit the day after she got home from the maternity ward. I don’t doubt their sincerity or the urgent need for the discussion, but perhaps they ought to have thought about these issues beforehand. Actually, that’s being too ...
The Obama administration convening Monday’s fiscal responsibility summit is a little like Octo-mom running a family planning summit the day after she got home from the maternity ward. I don’t doubt their sincerity or the urgent need for the discussion, but perhaps they ought to have thought about these issues beforehand.
Actually, that’s being too generous. The reality is that like Octo-mom, alcoholics and cheating husbands everywhere, these suddenly prudent profligates knew perfectly well that they shouldn’t have been doing what they were doing beforehand. Tim Geithner and Larry Summers were part of an administration that prided itself on eliminating the federal deficit. We crowed about our wisdom in finally bringing an end to a decade of reckless spending in Washington. At least Nadya Suleman has the excuse that she is apparently stark raving nuts. The architects of the stimulus knew that substantial elements of what they were doing were wasteful, pork-barrel politics or old-school Republican-style tax cuts that just won’t help restart the economy one bit. They also knew that there was at least a vigorous debate by sound-minded observers on both sides about the value of major portions of the stimulus package and that a little more time and circumspection could have produced a smarter stimulus. We could have fed the economy a healthy meal instead of whopper, shake, and fries that was cooked up.
Which makes the approach taken so starkly cynical. In fact, it may replace the classic borscht belt definition of chutzpah (murdering your parents and seeking leniency from the judge because you are an orphan). What could be a better example of chutzpah than passing the biggest non-budget spending package in the history of the United States and then convening a meeting to explain why reckless spending is so wrong and such a threat to us all. Maybe that’s not quite it. Maybe it’s that they felt like they could expiate their sins by a public of act of contrition, but doing one event so quickly after the other does make it seem not so much real contrition as political triangulation. (And announcing a goal of reducing the deficit by half by the end of the first term does seem just a trifle neat to me, sending a message that the time is based on electoral rather than economic concerns.) Yes, maybe that’s what troubles me the most. They are trying to get credit for both the grab-bag stimulus and for their commitment to prudence at the same time. (For an appreciation of a key point they got right at the summit, see the next post.)
Fiscal responsibility is not a suit you only wear to church on Sundays. Either you live it or you don’t. Few critics dispute the need for a stimulus, it is true. But more telling is the fact that fewer still are willing to defend all the big elements of the package. (All this offers troubling echoes of the Bush administration to me: either you are with us or against us, debate puts us at risk, we need to suspend our values due to the emergency, let’s act first and plan later.)
Anyway, I doubt Nadya Suleman is going to have any more kids now that her particular form of lunacy has been revealed, but I am not as confident that the administration is going to cleave to the path it celebrates this week. As for their colleagues on the Hill, there are a substantial number of them who would make Octo-mom mother of the year if they thought it would win them a vote and probably another group that still thinks babies are delivered by the stork.
On the other hand, judging from a recent poll, I am in the minority in being concerned about this. Most of the American people are very happy with the Obama administration and a majority now trust politicians more than they trust business people. (Taking one giant step toward disproving the P.T. Barnum assertion that “no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” Some pols are doing it every day and we are getting more and more broke all the time.)
But let’s have a reality check here. If you want to trust Barack Obama more than say, Donald Trump, Bernie Madoff, or Dick Fuld, I’m with you 100 percent. But if you trust any politician’s views on how to create permanent jobs or organic growth more than you trust the vast majority of American business people, I’ve got the perfect mother of the year candidate for you. Please remember it was not just the greed or short-sightedness of Wall Street that got us into this pickle, and in the long run, it is not going to be the U.S. government that produces the innovation or effort that gets us out.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
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