Let’s start out with some headlines, shall we?
- December retail sales drop 0.3 percent: Sales for all of 2009 plunge by record amount
- Record year for foreclosures as unemployment rises
- Retail sales fall unexpectedly jobless claims up
So foreclosures are up. Unemployment is up. Retail sales are down. Not to mention we’ve had record amounts of bank failures. You know what this calls for, don’t you? That’s right, it calls for MORE TAXES.
If that sounds like insanity to you it’s because you don’t have the right point of view. You’re probably thinking about economics. Silly you. Obama’s recent economic policy initiative has nothing to do with economics and everything to do with populism.
Populism is what Team Obama does best. That’s the lesson of 2008. Who else but Obama could simultaneously have this weird, cult-like following and be the hippest kid on campus? He was like some cross of the Beatles and Jerry Falwell, making the girls faint while he painted picture of a glorious promised land of post-racial harmony and world peace. Team Obama managed to savagely whip the mainstream media into shape while at the same time stay their BFF. HE turned the fierce watchdog of American liberty into a lapdog.
So we know Team Obama can spin, but what else can they do well? The answer – as we’ve learned in 2009 – is “not much”. It’s been one debacle after another. From gate-crashers at the White House to backstabbing allies to fruitless foreign policy tours we’ve seen every variation on ineffectual from weird to sinister to sad. At home and abroad Obama has stumbled on every non-trivial policy venture he has tried. How much longer can this go on?
I learned the answer when I read about Obama’s in-depth interview on domestic economic policy and foreign relations strategy with that paragon of political journalism: People.
This may surprise you, but there actually wasn’t any policy substance in the interview for People. Shocking, I know. But Obama did weigh in on Tiger Woods. And in a time of war and economic uncertainty who doesn’t want the man occupying the highest executive office in the land to pontificate about whether or not the most recent celebrity philanderer can be “rehabilitated”? I know that’s front and center on all of our minds these days, right?
But what really struck me from that interview was Obama’s return to the vacuous campaign rhetoric:
President Barack Obama says he has not succeeded in bringing the country together, acknowledging an atmosphere of divisiveness that has washed away the lofty national feeling surrounding his inauguration a year ago.
“That’s what’s been lost this year … that whole sense of changing how Washington works,” Obama said in an interview with People magazine.
The president said his second-year agenda will be refocused on uniting the country around common values, “whether we’re Democrats or Republicans.”
“We all want work that’s satisfying, pays the bills and gives children a better future and security,” Obama said…
[He] said people have “every right to feel deflated, because the economy was far worse than any of us expected.” But he insisted that his government’s economic steps in 2009 are paying off and that people should have confidence in this new year.
Did you catch that? I mean we’ve got “change” back in the vocabulary, and folksy appeals to folksily folks who just want to “pay the [folksy] bills”. And – of course – that old fable of post-partisanship. I think I’m going to start referring to Obama’s post-partisanship as “Nessie” because it’s the biggest, most famous thing that never existed.
Here’s all you need to understand Barack Obama in one short sentence. Obama is to credibility what Bernie Madoff is to dollars. His presidency is built on a pyramid scheme of trust. He conned millions of Americans into depositing their faith in his hands. He promised them a fabulous return on investment. For the low-low cost of one vote they too could get a ticket on the Hope and Change Express, next stop, Utopia!
Over the past year the passengers on this train have noticed that they aren’t headed towards Utopia. In fact, they haven’t left the station. So naturally they are restless. Ordinarily when the marks start asking for their money back it’s time to skip town, but Obama is a man of rare ego. Besides, running away with people’s money will get you set for life. Running away with people’s trust is not as profitable.
So his only option is to return to what worked in the first place. Obama is getting back to his roots. He may be surrounded by an intimidating array of political knee-cappers, but he himself is the consummate showman, and this tax is just the newest act to take center ring at the circus. Let’s compare the rhetoric (the form) with the logic (the substance).
Start with the headline:
Obama tells banks: `We want our money back’
So right off that he’s casting himself as just one of us, fighting for us, standing up for us. It’s “our” money. Kind of wish he’d remembered that when he’d started spending it, don’t you? Maybe if it’s “our” money – and the polls are against health care – he’ll put a stop to that as well?
But wait, there’s more!
“If these companies are in good enough shape to afford massive bonuses, they are surely in good enough shape to afford paying back every penny to taxpayers,”
Again we have the plucky individualist standing up against those villainous fat-cats. So who remembers that a few months ago when the banks wanted to pay back the money and Obama said “no”. Guess he wasn’t on our side then, was he? Then there’s the fact that most of the companies have already paid it back by now, and that the tax includes banks that never got any TARP money in the first place. Fact, meet fiction.
One more dose is probably all we can take, and I warn you: it’s a whopper.
“We are already hearing a hue and cry from Wall Street, suggesting that this proposed fee is not only unwelcome but unfair, that by some twisted logic, it is more appropriate for the American people to bear the cost of the bailout rather than the industry that benefited from it, even though these executives are out there giving themselves huge bonuses.”
Once again Obama relies on the American people having no memory. Because a year ago when Bush and Obama were on the same side of the TARP issue they both made the case that these banks were too big too fail. In other words, we had to bail the banks out because it was in OUR best interest. The only way TARP got passed was under the premise that we were NOT doing them a favor. We were just looking out for ourselves. But just a few months later Obama finds that narrative no longer convenient. Now it turns out that TARP was what – an exercise in good, Christian charity? That we’re now going to charge a fee for? I guess we’ve always been at war with Eurasia.
Oh, and before I finish with this one, let’s not forget the bonuses at Fannie and Freddie that seem to bother no one in the White House. Nor Rahm’s big payday back in 2001. I guess bonuses are OK so long as they go out to the right sorts of people.
Which brings me to a serious issue. Obama’s strategy can mostly be summed up as a charm offensive. He tried his hand at leading. It didn’t work out so well. Now he’s going to go back to campaigning. But wrapped up in that charm offensive like a rock in a fluffy snowball is the scapegoat mentality. And the jokes stop here. Because there’s a long history of finding scapegoats after financial disasters, and the scapegoat is usually the same. In fact, even today, 25% of American non-Jews believe that “the Jews” deserve at least moderate amounts of blame for the financial crisis. Now clearly Obama is too politically correct to engage in outright anti-Semitism. There has not been so much a whiff of anti-Semitism from the White House with regards to the financial crisis. Having said that: the scapegoat game is a dangerous game to play. Sure, wealthy middle-aged white guys are the target du jour, but hate is a dangerous weapon. We all remember Nancy Pelosi’s tearful plea for conservatives to play nice, but – once again – it’s a rule only we have to follow. It’s open seasons on fat-cats and there’s no bag limit. My concern is that once you get that ball rolling there may be no way to slow it down. This is the politics of fear, hatred, and destruction. And they don’t transmogrify into hope and change just because you are aiming them at banking executives.
Here’s the takeaway: Obama’s on the ropes. His numbers are down. His party numbers are down. His legislation is faltering. He needs to do something to save his skin. Now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a dose of healthy self-interest, but we’d hope that he’d try to put the interests of the country ahead of his own. To a cynic like myself that’s what accountability is really about. I don’t have to worry about my representatives being greedy selfish bastards if I can rely on their incentives being in-line with the interests of the nation as a whole.
But what we’re seeing is a reckless attempt to save himself without any consideration for the cost on others. Rolling out the old scapegoat strategy is just one example. The whole bank tax idea is incredibly stupid, economically. The Keynsians (generally more liberal) say to keep taxes steady, spend up a storm, and try to use that deficit spending to jump-start the economy. We’ll pay it back later. The moderate conservatives say to lower taxes and allow the American people to jump-start the economy. We’ll pay it back later. (The Tea Party says to hell with debt, just get out of our way and we’ll clean up, but no one takes racist, redneck teabaggers seriously so why should Obama?)
No one – and I repeat no one – actually thinks raising taxes makes any kind of economic sense. Especially not when practically every week the White House is admitting that despite their best efforts the economic crisis is worse than they thought it was last week. (Gee, maybe that’s not a coincidence?) If you try to untangle the latest policy in terms of economics you’re just going to get a headache. May as well go listen to some Britney Spears albums backwards. But when you consider the move from a publicity standpoint the advantages are obvious.
Here’s to hoping the American people aren’t ready for another round of investment in the Barack Obama Pyramid Scheme.
Robert considers himself a classical liberal, has a background in mathematics and systems engineering, and is currently studying economics in graduate school. He and his wife also work as business analysis consultants, and they live day-to-day as undercover conservatives along with their two small children in a socialist bastion of a college town. He has been writing for America’s Right since December 2008.