The $20 Trillion Irresponsible, Unpatriotic Man

“The problem is is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China, in the name of our children, dragging up our national debt from $5 trillion — for the first 42 presidents — number 43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome, so that we now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back — $30,000 for every man, woman, and child. That’s irresponsible. That’s unpatriotic.”

— Barack Obama, Fargo, ND, July 3, 2008

From The Washington Times:

When President Obama signs into law the new two-year budget deal Monday, his action will bring into sharper focus a part of his legacy that he doesn’t like to talk about: He is the $20 trillion man.

Mr. Obama’s spending agreement with Congress will suspend the nation’s debt limit and allow the Treasury to borrow another $1.5 trillion or so by the end of his presidency in 2017. Added to the current total national debt of more than $18.15 trillion, the red ink will likely be crowding the $20 trillion mark right around the time Mr. Obama leaves the White House.

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Chaotic

From VDH:

Amid all the charges and countercharges in Washington over the government shutdown, there is at least one common theme: Barack Obama’s various charges always lead to a dead end. They are chaos, and chaos is hard to understand, much less refute.

By that I mean when the president takes up a line of argument against his opponents, it cannot really be taken seriously — not just because it is usually not factual, but also because it always contradicts positions that Obama himself has taken earlier or things he has previously asserted. Whom to believe — Obama 1.0, Obama 2.0, or Obama 3.0?

When the president derides the idea of shutting down the government over the debt ceiling, we almost automatically assume that he himself tried to do just that when as a senator he voted against the Bush administration request in 2006, when the debt was about $6 trillion less than it is now.

When the president blasts the Republicans for trying to subvert the “settled law” of Obamacare, we trust that Obama himself had earlier done precisely that when he unilaterally subverted his own legislation — by quite illegally discarding the employer mandate provision of Obamacare. At least the Republicans tried to revise elements of Obamacare through existing legislative protocols; the president preferred executive fiat to nullify a settled law.

When the president deplores the lack of bipartisanship and the lockstep Republican effort to defund Obamacare, we remember that the president steamrolled the legislation through the Congress without a single Republican vote.

When the president laments the loss of civility and reminds the public that he uses “calm” rhetoric during the impasse, we know he has accused his opponents of being on an “ideological crusade” and of being hostage takers and blackmailers who have “a gun held to the head of the American people,” while his top media adviser Dan Pfeiffer has said that they had “a bomb strapped to their chest.”

When the president insists that the Republican effort to hold up the budget is unprecedented, we automatically deduce that, in fact, the action has many precedents, and on frequent prior occasions was a favored ploy of Democrats to gain leverage over Republican administrations.

In short, whenever the president prefaces a sweeping statement with one of his many emphatics — “make no mistake about it,” “I’m not making this up,” “in point of fact,” “let me be perfectly clear” — we know that the reverse is always true. For Obama, how something is said matters far more than what is said. If he stumbles, as is his wont, through an un-teleprompted remark that on rare occasions can be mostly accurate, that is a serious lapse; if, more frequently, he mellifluously asserts a teleprompted falsehood, there is little worry. The result is not so much untruth, lies, or distortions, as virtual chaos. Is what he says untrue, contradictory of what he said or did earlier, or just nonsensical?

These strange flights of fantasy are not new. When Barack Obama boasts that “American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years,” we know that is despite, not because of, his efforts, remembering that oil and gas leases have markedly decreased during the Obama administration, as they have soared on private and state lands. Again, how do you refute fantasy?

When he brags of the present chaos in the Middle East by saying that “a wave of change has washed across the Middle East and North Africa” during his administration, we translate that into 100,000 are dead in Syria and U.S. credibility about red lines is shredded; the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Egypt followed by a coup and rule by a junta; “leading from behind” in Libya resulting in a virtual Somalia well before the Benghazi disaster; abdication in Iraq, which is now less stable than it was in 2009; and Vietnam circa 1975 looming in Afghanistan.

When the president boasts that the deficit is actually shrinking under his leadership, we assume he is referring to the forced budget cuts brought about by sequestration that he not only opposed, but also warned would be disastrous.

These paradoxes could be interpreted in various ways. True, Obama is a politician who takes up and discards arguments as he finds them useful, always branding those currently in use as somehow morally superior to the alternative. Obama is also a zealot and a community organizer who is not content with opposing the positions of his opponents, but always must impugn their motives as well.

But a third explanation is more likely. Obama simply couldn’t care less about what he says at any given moment, whether it is weighing in on the football name “Redskins” or the Travyon Martin trial. He is detached and unconcerned about the history of an issue, about which he is usually poorly informed. Raising the debt ceiling is an abstraction; all that matters is that when he is president it is a good thing and when he is opposing a president it is a bad one. Let aides sort out the chaos. Obamacare will lower premiums, not affect existing medical plans, and not require increased taxes; that all of the above are untrue matters nothing. Who could sort out the chaos?

When other presidents act unilaterally, Obama cites his constitutional experience in demagoguing them, as he did against Bush during the crafting of the war on terror legislation. When he wishes either to violate the law or to adopt a prior Bush protocol, then he simply does so, and lets others sort out the inconsistency. Sometimes the result is so chaotic that Obama ends up bragging that he wants to shut down Guantanamo Bay, which he has kept open for five years, as if it was long ago virtually shut down. When we go into Libya, we do so instead of going into Syria because Libya is said to be a war and the violence in Syria a mere police action; when Libya turns out to be a disaster, then we will go into Syria.

During the present crisis, Obama simply asks his aides what are the arguments of the day to be made. When he is instructed that Republicans are doing something bad, something unprecedented, and something anarchic, then like his often referenced hero LeBron James, Obama wants the rhetoric ball to complete the demagogic play, which results in the usual chaotic invective. That the Republicans are doing something that is not unprecedented or anarchic, but similar to what Obama himself and his party have done in the past, is not even noticed.

In the mind of Obama there are many narratives. If something is a little better in the Middle East, but most things are a lot worse, then the little is his, and the most belongs to others. If somebody did not listen to Obama and decided to produce more gas and oil, then what difference does it make — given that at least they produced more gas and oil at the same time that he was in office?

If smaller deficits are deemed by most to be better than larger ones, then Obama agrees and who cares that he was indifferent whether they became bigger or smaller?

The media, of course, accepts that what Obama says on any given day will contradict what he has said or done earlier, or will be an exaggeration or caricature of his opponents’ position, or simply be detached from reality. But in their daily calculus, that resulting chaos is minor in comparison to the symbolic meaning of Obama. He is, after all, both the nation’s first African-American president and our first left-wing progressive since Franklin Roosevelt.

In comparison with those two facts, no others really matter.

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Obama Republic

From Mark Steyn:

‘This is the United States of America,” declared President Obama to the burghers of Liberty, Mo., on Friday. “We’re not some banana republic.”

He was talking about the Annual Raising of the Debt Ceiling, which glorious American tradition seems to come round earlier every year. “This is not a deadbeat nation,” President Obama continued. “We don’t run out on our tab.” True. But we don’t pay it off either. We just keep running it up, ever higher. And every time the bartender says, “Mebbe you’ve had enough, pal,” we protest, “Jush another couple trillion for the road. Set ’em up, Joe.” And he gives you that look that kinda says he wishes you’d run out on your tab back when it was $23.68.

Still, Obama is right. We’re not a banana republic, if only because the debt of banana republics is denominated in a currency other than their own — i.e., the U.S. dollar. When you’re the guys who print the global currency, you can run up debts undreamt of by your average generalissimo. As Obama explained in another of his recent speeches, “Raising the debt ceiling, which has been done over a hundred times, does not increase our debt.” I won’t even pretend to know what he and his speechwriters meant by that one, but the fact that raising the debt ceiling “has been done over a hundred times” does suggest that spending more than it takes in is now a permanent feature of American government. And no one has plans to do anything about it. Which is certainly banana republic-esque.

Is all this spending necessary? Every day, the foot-of-page-37 news stories reveal government programs it would never occur to your dimestore caudillo to blow money on. On Thursday, it was the Food and Drug Administration blowing just shy of $200 grand to find out whether its Twitter and Facebook presence is “well-received.” A fifth of a million dollars isn’t even a rounding error in most departmental budgets, so nobody cares. But the FDA is one of those sclerotic American institutions that has near to entirely seized up. In October 1920, it occurred to an Ontario doctor called Frederick Banting that insulin might be isolated and purified and used to treat diabetes; by January 1923, Eli Lilly & Co were selling insulin to American pharmacies: A little over two years from concept to market. Now the FDA adds at least half-a-decade to the process, and your chances of making it through are far slimmer: As recently as the late Nineties, they were approving 157 new drugs per half-decade. Today it’s less than half that.

But they’ve got $182,000 to splash around on finding out whether people really like them on Facebook, or they’re just saying that. So they’ve given the dough to a company run by Dan Beckmann, a former “new media aide” to President Obama. That has the whiff of the banana republic about it, too.

The National Parks Service, which I had carelessly assumed was the service responsible for running national parks, has been making videos on Muslim women’s rights: “Islam gave women a whole bunch of rights that Western women acquired later in the 19th and 20th centuries, and we’ve had these rights since the seventh century,” explains a lady from AnNur Islamic School in Schenectady at the National Park Service website, nps.gov. Fascinating stuff, no doubt. But what’s it to do with national parks? Maybe the rangers could pay Dan Beckmann a quarter-million bucks to look into whether the National Parks’ Islamic outreach is using social media as effectively as it might.

Where do you go to get a piece of this action? As the old saying goes, bank robbers rob banks because that’s where the money is. But the smart guys rob taxpayers because that’s where the big money is. According to the Census Bureau’s latest “American Community Survey,” between 2000 and 2012 the nation’s median household income dropped 6.6 percent. Yet in the District of Columbia median household income rose 23.3 percent. According to a 2010 survey, seven of the nation’s ten wealthiest counties are in the Washington commuter belt. Many capital cities have prosperous suburbs — London, Paris, Rome — because those cities are also the capitals of enterprise, finance, and showbiz. But Washington does nothing but government, and it gets richer even as Americans get poorer. That’s very banana republic, too: Proximity to state power is now the best way to make money. Once upon a time Americans found fast-running brooks and there built mills to access the water that kept the wheels turning. But today the ambitious man finds a big money-no-object bureaucracy that likes to splash the cash around and there builds his lobbying group or consultancy or social media optimization strategy group.

The CEO of Panera Bread, as some kind of do-gooder awareness-raising shtick, is currently attempting to live on food stamps, and not finding it easy. But being dependent on government handouts isn’t supposed to be easy. Instead of trying life at the bottom, why doesn’t he try life in the middle? In 2012, the top 10 percent were taking home 50.4 percent of the nation’s income. That’s an all-time record, beating out the 49 percent they were taking just before the 1929 market crash. With government redistributing more money than ever before, we’ve mysteriously wound up with greater income inequality than ever before. Across the country, “middle-class” Americans have accumulated a trillion dollars in college debt in order to live a less comfortable life than their high-school-educated parents and grandparents did in the Fifties and Sixties. That’s banana republic, too: no middle class, but only a government elite and its cronies, and a big dysfunctional mass underneath, with very little social mobility between the two.

Like to change that? Maybe advocate for less government spending? Hey, Lois Lerner’s IRS has got an audit with your name on it. The tax collectors of the United States treat you differently according to your political beliefs. That’s pure banana republic, but no one seems to mind very much. This week it emerged that senior Treasury officials, up to and including Turbotax Timmy Geithner, knew what was going on at least as early as spring 2012. But no one seems to mind very much. In the words of an insouciant headline writer at Government Executive, “the magazine for senior federal bureaucrats” (seriously), back in May:

“The Vast Majority of IRS Employees Aren’t Corrupt”

So, if the vast majority aren’t, what proportion is corrupt? Thirty-eight percent? Thirty-three? Twenty-seven? And that’s the good news? The IRS is not only institutionally corrupt, it’s corrupt in the service of one political party. That’s Banana Republic 101.

What comes next? Government officials present in Benghazi during last year’s slaughter have been warned not to make themselves available to congressional inquiry. CNN obtained one e-mail spelling out the stakes to CIA employees: “You don’t jeopardize yourself, you jeopardize your family as well.”

“That’s all very ominous,” wrote my colleague Jonah Goldberg the other day, perhaps a little too airily for my taste. I’d rank it somewhere north of “ominous.”

“Banana republic” is an American coinage — by O. Henry, a century ago, for a series of stories set in the fictional tropical polity of Anchuria. But a banana republic doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a sensibility, and it’s difficult to mark the precise point at which a free society decays into something less respectable. Pace Obama, ever swelling debt, contracts for cronies, a self-enriching bureaucracy, a shrinking middle class preyed on by corrupt tax collectors, and thuggish threats against anyone who disagrees with you put you pretty far down the banana-strewn path.

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Irresponsible and Unpatriotic

From VDH:

As a senator and presidential candidate, Barack Obama said that he detested budget deficits. In 2006, when the aggregate national debt was almost $8 trillion less than it is today, he blasted George W. Bush’s chronic borrowing and refused to vote for upping the debt ceiling: “Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’”

In 2008, Obama further blasted Bush’s continued Keynesian borrowing: “The problem is, is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children . . . so that we now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back — $30,000 for every man, woman, and child. That’s irresponsible. It’s unpatriotic.”

Strong words. But so worried was Obama about the debt that just two weeks after he took office, he promised still more: “And that’s why today I’m pledging to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office. I refuse to leave our children with a debt that they cannot repay.”

In his first term, Obama has added more than $5 trillion to the national debt, borrowing more in four years than the “irresponsible” and “unpatriotic” Bush did in eight. In fact, Obama is on schedule to add more total debt by the end of his two terms than all prior presidents combined. What happened to worries about leaving our children with a “debt they cannot repay”? And where did all that borrowed money go, given that the war in Iraq has been over for more than a year, and we are winding down in Afghanistan?

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Failure of Leadership

Every Republican in Congress, when given the chance to speak about the debt ceiling, should recite the following:

The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now de- pend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies.

Over the past 5 years, our federal debt has increased by $3.5 trillion to $8.6 trillion. That is ‘‘trillion’’ with a ‘‘T.’’ That is money that we have borrowed from the Social Security trust fund, borrowed from China and Japan, borrowed from American taxpayers. And over the next 5 years, between now and 2011, the President’s budget will increase the debt by almost another $3.5 trillion.

[…]

Our debt also matters internationally. My friend, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, likes to remind us that it took 42 Presidents 224 years to run up only $1 trillion of foreign-held debt. This administration did more than that in just 5 years. Now, there is nothing wrong with borrowing from foreign countries. But we must remember that the more we depend on foreign nations to lend us money, the more our economic security is tied to the whims of foreign leaders whose interests might not be aligned with ours.

Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘‘the buck stops here.’’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grand- children. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.

I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.

— Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), March 16, 2006

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No. 44 Has Added $6 Trillion By His Lonesome

And he’s only halfway done.

From VDH:

Why is it hard to take seriously what President Obama says this week on the fiscal cliff and the debt? Maybe, because he has said about the opposite in the past.

“Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.” That’s what Senator Obama said when in 2006 he voted against the Bush administration’s upping the U.S. debt ceiling to $9 trillion — a quote that joins the catalogue of: “The problem is, is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up the national debt from $5 trillion for the first 42 presidents — No. 43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome, so that we now have $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back — $30,000 for every man, woman and child. That’s irresponsible. It’s unpatriotic,” and, of course, “Today I’m pledging to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office.” Would Senator Obama have wished George Bush unilaterally to have set the debt limit without the Congress’s oversight?

In general, when Obama is outraged about something, or accuses his opponents of bad faith or questions someone’s patriotism, it is usually the case that his own past declarations are at odds with what he later asserts as unassailable fact — the above could be done with Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, Iraq, detentions, drilling, civility, almost anything. The problem is not that Obama, like all politicians, so serially contradicts what he once declared as fact; but that he does it so emphatically and with such little concern that he is making things up as he goes along — with no real idea or worry about what he has recently just as emphatically declared as true. Thus the inflated adjectives (“unpatriotic”), and psychodramatic bluster (“I am pledging. . . ” “Americans deserve better”).

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