In 2012 Obama will hope that his polarizing politics, coupled with calls for bipartisanship, will trump his unpopular record.
An evil psychopath, Jared Lee Loughner — a man with no discernible ideology or political affiliation, and declared by those who know him to be both unhinged and unacquainted with contemporary media — shot a U.S. congresswoman, murdered a federal judge, and killed five other innocent people, while wounding several more.
Almost immediately, prominent liberal journalists and several politicians in the U.S. Congress and in state legislatures directly attributed Loughner’s rampage to the “climate of hate” in general and to the Tea Party, Fox News, Sarah Palin, conservatives in general, or the Republican party in particular.
The local Democratic sheriff, Clarence W. Dupnik — in a brazen display of the Bloomberg syndrome of posturing on cosmic issues as local crises go unaddressed — thought he could elevate himself into Nelson Mandela status by damning the Right for the violence. Then his narrative too imploded when it was learned that Loughner had had several run-ins with a negligent law-enforcement staff, with plenty of indications that he was not all there. Observers soon made the argument that if there was a preexisting climate of hate about which Dupnik was now a self-appointed expert, why then had not the sheriff provided a single officer to protect Congresswoman Giffords in her open-air fora within Dupnik’s jurisdiction?
In some ways, the most embarrassing demagoguery came from the secretary of state. While in Abu Dhabi, Mrs. Clinton — in a rather shameful sort of moral equivalence — apparently intended to impress her hosts and score political points at the same time. So without any evidence, she labeled Loughner an “extremist,” in a general call to quell political violence both in and outside the United States.
What was the evidence for the charge that Loughner was a product of the political fringe, or that his rampage was a logical extension of right-wing politics? The scene of the crime was Arizona, which had been the object of liberal vituperation, failed economic boycotts, and political censure because of its efforts to enforce federal immigration laws that the Obama administration was not enforcing. The suspect was a lone white male. And there was a vague memory that such ideological scavenging amid tragedy had worked well in the Timothy McVeigh case. I think that was about it.
So in less than 72 hours the legion of liberal pundits, bloggers, and newspaper editors that had rushed to demagogue the issue was reduced to embarrassed silence. Loughner was clearly unhinged and had no political affiliation. Many who had called conservatives out had themselves a long record of using inflammatory metaphors and similes. President Obama — unlike his sloganeering after the Skip Gates mess or the Major Hasan murdering — uncharacteristically kept quiet, processed public opinion, and than gave a fine speech, disavowing charges of a political connection to the tragedy. In Orwellian fashion, the New York Times now praised the new bipartisan civility without citing its own uncivil efforts a few hours earlier to politicize the shooting.
End of story? Hardly. Consider the present landscape and its logic.
We are all supposed to deny any connection between the Taxi Driver copy-cat Loughner and politics. But we are also supposed to use this occasion to insist on a new age of civility in which we all strive to curb the inflammatory speech that did not prompt Loughner at all.
Are we appalled by the repugnant efforts of an ideologue like Paul Krugman to capitalize on the killing of innocent people, while we nonetheless de facto accept his thesis that politics, as in right-wing politics, motivated Loughner, and thus must tone down? And once incivility is accepted as Loughner’s catalyst, who, after all, is going to protest a return to “civility”?
Why the weird disconnect?
After the November 2010 liberal meltdown, the progressive community privately accepts a number of realities. 1) The American people believe that never-let-a-serious-crisis-go-to-waste massive deficit spending made a bottoming-out recession far worse, and they want a stop to the leftist agenda of Obamacare, takeovers, more borrowing, and larger government.
2) The right-wing response (Fox News, talk radio, the Internet, the Murdoch empire, etc.) to the old left-wing media monopolies of the eastern and western coastal daily newspapers, the three television networks, NPR, PBS, and the weekly news magazines is no longer a “response,” but is in many ways far more effective in influencing and channeling public opinion.
3) A half century’s increase, under both parties, in the size of government, the debt, and entitlements is not merely unsustainable but now unwanted by the American people, who have caught on to the nexus between a redistributive technocratic overseeing class and a constituent underclass dependent on government subsidies.
In other words, the calls for a general toning down of rhetoric translate far more into a toning down of both an effective media opposition and a rising political obstruction to the Obama agenda. “Can’t we all get along?” in essence means, “Can’t we all just keep quiet and keep going on with the big-government, agreed-on politics of the last fifty years?”
Will that work? No.
First, Barack Obama is the most partisan politician since Richard Nixon. His brief Senate record, his health-care partisanship of 2009, his snickering amid audience applause after the “inadvertent” middle-fingering of Hillary Clinton, and his polarizing metaphorical speech (e.g., knives, guns, kicking ass, getting angry, getting in their face, hostage takers, trigger fingers, tearing up) all attest to that.
That Obama is a postracial mellifluent Chicago politician does not mean that he is not a Chicago politician. That he blasts the “fat cats,” the “stupidly” acting police, and the limb-lopping surgeons, or that his attorney general calls the American people “cowards,” is typical, not aberrant. For 2012, President Obama will have raised $1 billion in cash. He knows from 2008 (“cling to guns or religion,” “typical white person,” “gun to a knife fight”) that his own emotionalism and polarization both earn him cash and create the “them” against “us” (minorities, youth, gays, women) binaries that might draw attention away from an agenda that a majority simply does not want. Obama has always used polarizing politics, coupled with calls for bipartisanship, to great effect, and he surely — as we just saw again in October 2010 (“punish,” “backseat,” “enemies”) — cannot stop now.
Second, the country is center-right. A Watergate, a Perot candidacy, an insurgency in Iraq, or fear of a 1929-style meltdown can on occasion elect a Democratic president, usually one with a southern accent that suggests latent conservatism. In other words, crises, costly wars, and scandal are the necessary roads to power for contemporary liberalism. Hysterical speech in accentuating the climate of collapse pays dividends.
The Bush–Hitler/Brownshirt invective used by the likes of Robert Byrd, Al Gore, and John Glenn, or the Howard Dean “I hate Republicans and everything they stand for,” is rarely directly rejected by the liberal community since it really does pound away in insidious fashion in associating sensible conservative ideas with diabolical ogres who mouth them. Are we all to be in a sort of national Jimmy Carter mode, in which toothy smiles, a preacher’s voice, and biblical references sugarcoat incendiary talk (cf. the benevolent Carter’s description of Dick Cheney as a “militant,” the elder Bush as “effeminate,” Israel as an “apartheid” nation, George W. Bush as the “worst” president)?
Indeed, hours after President Obama’s calls for a new landscape of civility, Rep. Steven Cohen (D., Tenn.) was comparing Republican opponents of the health-care legislation to Nazis from the House floor, while Slate published a screed by Emily Bazelon on “Why I Loathe My Connecticut Senator,” with serial expressions of how she “loathed” and “despised” Sen. Joe Lieberman.
In sum, the new age of civility is a political response to an acknowledged tragic event that was apolitical. It is intended to tone down growing political and media opposition to the status quo in Washington. And bipartisan friendly dialogue cannot and will not be adhered to by those now calling for its implementation, since divisive language often achieves what an unpersuasive ideology cannot. The hate-filled rhetoric of a Michael Moore (who sat in Jimmy Carter’s reserved box at the 2004 Democratic convention) or a Cindy Sheehan (the darling of the press and Democratic politicians at Camp Casey in 2005) was cruel, lunatic, and illogical — and helped demonize President Bush as some sort of monster rather than the center-right moderate who had pressed for No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, called for religious tolerance, warned against anti-Muslim violence after 9/11, won two bipartisan congressional authorizations for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and implemented the largest medical-relief plan for Africa in U.S. history.
So I predict that 18 months from now the president himself will still be calling for a new civility in the manner of his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention — and will once again adopt the sorts of over-the-top metaphors, similes, allusions, and rough-stuff politics that got him elected senator in 2004 and president in 2008, and pushed his health-care legislation through in 2009. If anything, the language of division will be shriller even than in 2010, as the administration grasps that loaded language, coupled with calls for an end to rancor, must now do what a record of unpopular governance cannot.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.
In June 2009, the Department of Energy, responding to a mandate from President Obama, issued new regulations to phase out fluorescent tubes and the cone-shaped bulbs used in recessed lighting. “When it comes to saving money and growing our economy, energy efficiency isn’t just low-hanging fruit; it’s fruit on the ground,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. Yet one of the institutions having the most trouble picking fruit is the Department of Energy itself. A recent report by the department’s inspector general found that the agency had made little progress in installing the more efficient systems that it recommends to others and was instead using older bulbs, racking up a $76 million electricity bill annually. But don’t expect the department’s struggles to dampen the Obama administration’s enthusiasm for regulation. During its first year and a half, the administration issued far more rules than the Bush administration did over the same period, according to a study by OMB Watch, a government-accountability group.
Even with a new Congress filled with Tea Party types keen on reducing government, Washington is likely to remain a source of mounting regulations, thanks to the broad rule-making powers that federal agencies wield. For starters, the Obama administration’s signature new laws—Obamacare, signed last spring, and the Dodd-Frank financial-reform act, which became law in July—will require a blizzard of new rules from myriad agencies responsible for enforcing them. Already, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, and the Department and Health and Human Services have promulgated more than 1,000 pages of rules related to the health-care act, and the total will reach more than 10,000 pages, estimates Inside Counsel, a magazine for corporate lawyers. The Dodd-Frank bill will require some 240 new rules from agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve, and the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Further, the White House is using its rule-making powers in aggressively political ways. In its most notable move, the administration used the threat of extensive new environmental regulations to get Congress to pass a law to fight climate change. When Congress failed to act, the Environmental Protection Agency went ahead with the new rules, which included declaring carbon dioxide a greenhouse gas and demanding that manufacturers seeking permits for new facilities install the “best available technology” to control emissions, though the agency has yet to define what that technology is. A number of states and industry groups have launched lawsuits to fight the regulations. The EPA also issued controversial new goals for gas efficiency in cars and light trucks, with a target of 35.5 miles per gallon, on average, in cars sold in the U.S. by 2016, compared with 25 miles per gallon in 2009.
Other federal agencies have been nearly as busy. At Obama’s request, the Department of Labor now requires firms that contract with the federal government to inform employees that they have the right to unionize and bargain collectively. The department also expanded the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act. Previously, working parents could get time off to care for sick kids; now, grandparents, domestic partners, and anyone who provides financial support or day-to-day care for children are eligible, too. The new regulations reflect “the reality that many children in the United States today do not live in traditional OnuclearËœ families with their biological father and mother,” the department noted. The labor department also required any contractor doing stimulus-financed weatherization to pay prevailing wages, which are generally on par with union pay scales.
The union-friendly Obama labor department did, however, get rid of one significant regulation: a Bush-administration rule that unions file disclosure statements on how they spend their members’ money. The disclosure rule had helped prompt a number of investigations of abuses, including a Los Angeles Times series that resulted in the removal of the head of a Service Employees International Union local for misallocating hundreds of thousands of dollars of members’ money. The Obama administration considered the transparency requirement an excessive burden on unions.
Other new Obama regulations cover everything from transportation to classrooms. The Department of Transportation, for example, issued a new rule requiring train operators to install systems that monitor and control train movements, known as “positive train controls.” Estimated cost to the industry: $10 billion. The energy department, meanwhile, has issued new, higher standards for efficient energy use for everything from washing machines to water heaters. The department even redefined what constitutes a showerhead in order to regulate more stringently the new multi-nozzle shower fixtures that, the Obama administration argues, waste water. The Department of Education has discussed applying the gender quotas of Title IX to college courses in math and science in an effort to force colleges to recruit more women as majors in these subjects.
And the administration may just be getting started. The president said last week that he was ordering a review of regulations throughout the federal bureaucracy. But his administration’s regulatory agenda identifies some 4,000 rules under development, says Susan Dudley, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under President Bush. This is big government by the back door.
Steven Malanga is the senior editor of City Journal and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He is the author of Shakedown: The Continuing Conspiracy Against the American Taxpayer.
DC Spending: Our Dismal Debt PictureBy John Stossel
Last year, I reported that the United States fell from sixth to eighth place -- behind Canada -- in the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal's 2010 Index of Economic Freedom. Now, we've fallen further. In the just-released 2011 Index, the United States is in ninth place. That's behind Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Ireland and Denmark.
The biggest reason for the continued slide? Spending as a percentage of gross domestic product. (State and local spending is not counted.)
The debt picture is dismal, too. We are heading into Greece's territory.
Are we doomed? Not necessarily. Economist David R. Henderson points out that our neighbors to the north faced a similar crisis. In 1994, the debt that Canada owed to investors was 67 percent of GDP. Today, it's less than 30 percent.
What did Canada do? It cut spending from 17.5 percent of GDP to 11.3 percent.
This wasn't merely a cut in the growth of spending, a favorite trick of congressional committees. These were actual reductions in absolute spending.
"If a cabinet minister wanted a smaller cut in one program, he had to come up with a bigger cut in another program," writes Henderson in "Canada's Budget Triumph," published by the Mercatus Center. All but one of Canada's 22 federal departments experienced real cuts in spending. While Canada raised taxes slightly, spending was cut six to seven times more.
These supposedly painful cuts didn't cause terrible pain. In fact, there was much more gain than pain. Unemployment dropped, the economy boomed, and the Canadian dollar -- then worth about 71 cents U.S. -- today is about equal to the American dollar.
If Canada can do it, we can, too. But the signs aren't good. New Speaker John Boehner, leader of the Republicans who now control the House, says he wants to cut spending. When he was sworn in last week, he declared: "Our spending has caught up with us. ... No longer can we kick the can down the road."
But when NBC anchorman Brian Williams asked him to name a program "we could do without," he said, "I don't think I have one off the top of my head."
Give me a break! You mean to tell me the Republican leader in the House doesn't already know what he wants to cut? I don't know which is worse -- that he doesn't have a list or that he won't talk about it in public.
The Republicans say they'll start by cutting $100 billion, but let's put that in perspective. The budget is close to $4 trillion. So $100 billion is just 2.5 percent. That's shooting too low. Firms in the private sector make cuts like that all the time. It's considered good business -- pruning away deadwood.
GOP leaders say the source of their short-run cuts will be discretionary non-security spending. They foolishly exclude entitlement spending, which Congress puts on autopilot, and all spending for national and homeland security (whether it's necessary or not). That leaves only $520 billion.
So even if the Republicans managed to cut all discretionary non-security spending (which is not what they plan), the deficit would still be $747 billion. (The deficit is now projected to be $1.267 trillion.)
This is a revolution? Republicans will have to learn that there is no budget line labeled "waste, fraud, abuse." If they are serious about cutting government, they will ax entire programs, departments and missions.
I'm not confident they have it in them. I hope I'm wrong, but they're politicians, after all. I'm reminded of Spencer Abraham. When he was a senator, he sponsored a bill to abolish the Department of Energy. But then George W. Bush appointed him to head the department. Suddenly, he saw the importance of the Energy Department. "I changed my mind after Congress passed legislation in 2000 reorganizing the department," Abraham explained to his former Senate colleagues. Yeah, yeah.
That's why I fear that the new Congress will soon remind me of that line by the Who: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."