UPDATED: Is Obama clueless or are his actions intentional?
UPDATED: Roger Kimball:
I was having lunch yesterday with a prominent critic of the Spender in Chief, and he raised a possibility that many of us have entertained over the past several weeks: that Obama is simply out of his depth: that he hasn’t a clue about what makes the economy tick and his talk about the “profit-to-earnings ratio” was not a slip of the tongue but a worrisome confirmation of the suspicion that he is an empty suit floundering around in the dark.
We kicked around that possibility for a few minutes: certainly the Obama administration seems like a monument to incompetence. Consider the multiple appointment fiascos. Consider his treatment of Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the country that has been our staunchest ally. Consider, if you can stand it, the economy: That sucking sound–the only palpable trace of the once-mighty U.S. stock market–reminds us what the market makes of Obama’s plans to raise taxes on “the rich,” the middle class, business. It reminds us what the market thinks of his efforts to shove the coal industry into a death spiral with absurd cap-and-trade carbon emissions regulations. And that’s all before breakfast, before he sets about wrecking the U.S. health care industry by turning it, too, over to Washington for ruination.
Yes, we agreed, it certainly looks like incompetence and, judged by its results, is effects, its consequences for this great country, it is incompetence on a breathtaking scale.
And yet, is it only incompetence? Remember, shortly before the election, Obama boasted to his mesmerized supporters that “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” Is that not what he has set about doing–with a vengeance? [Here.] And here’s where we began talking about another possibility: that Team Obama was deliberately targeting the U.S. economy, deliberately impoverishing millions of Americans, deliberately angering our closest allies while coddling dictators like Putin and his puppet Medvedev and funneling millions to terrorist organizations like Hamas…
…Each step strengthens the role of government in people’s lives. That’s exactly what Lenin sought to do…
Lenin, too, wished to “spread the wealth around.” And Obama, like Lenin, has been perfectly frank in recommending that we need to go beyond the “merely formal” rights enunciated in the Constitution in order to “bring about redistributive change” in society.
That’s where Obama’s much heralded–and astronomically expensive–”green” initiatives come in. Only they aren’t really (or are only incidentally) “green,” i.e., concerned with the environment. At bottom, they are pink, i.e., they are political weapons in a socialist battle against “greedy” business interests.
Who, I wonder, was the political genius who saw the advantages of exploiting people’s sentimental gullibility about the environment for partisan profit? We’ve long known that environmentalism, as the philosopher Harvey Mansfield put it, is “school prayer for liberals.” But I wonder whether even Professor Mansfield could have foreseen what a tool pseudo-environmentalism would be for the radical wing of the Democratic party? The inestimable value of a green, that is, a pink, philosophy is that you can never be green enough. And in pursuit of zero-carbon-emissions purity a government can impose crippling sanctions in order to force compliance. And don’t say Obama didn’t warn you: as I and many others pointed out during the campaign, he promised that, if elected, he would do all he could to “bankrupt” the coal industry…
They may need a support group before the month is out. They could gather in New York or Washington where many victims reside. The meetings would start: “I’m Maureen [or David]. I’m a duped Barack voter. And I’m mad.”
The ranks indeed are filling with the disaffected and the disappointed — Chris Buckley, Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, David Gergen, and even that gynecological sleuth and blogger Andrew Sullivan. And then there is the very angry Marty Peretz. Their complaints are varied but expressed with equal amounts of remorse and bitterness. They all have been done wrong by Barack…
All in all it is one dismayed and bitter group, filled with recriminations and a bit of self-flagellation. And it’s not hard to recognize that, as in any grieving process, they have passed through denial (when all who criticized their beloved Obama were excoriated and ridiculed) and are in the second step: anger. They were misled or deluded into believing Obama was a moderate or an indefatigable supporter of Israel or a fiscal grown-up or a reformer (take your pick).
They and the rest of the country are figuring out the bitter truth: Obama bears little resemblance to the moderate and soothing figure who tied up John McCain in knots. He bears even less resemblance to the Agent of Change. Rather he’s pretty much the Chicago pol who went to the Senate to be its most liberal member.
And for the wounded Obama supporters, we can offer just one bit of counsel: you have lots of company. There are trading floors filled with sympathetic souls and businesses filled with stunned executives. They didn’t get what they bargained for either…
Kind of like yesterday’s post here on AR. Stuart Taylor has more: Obama’s Left Turn – Centrists fear that the president’s budget reveals his liberal leanings.
Peter Robinson: “A couple of implications here are worth noting. The first is that a deep, recurring pattern of American life has asserted itself yet again: the cluelessness of the elite…The elite journalists, I repeat, got Obama wrong. The troglodytes got him right. As our national drama continues to unfold, bear that in mind.”
More here and here.
The conventional wisdom is that Obama, with strong majorities in both houses of Congress, will get every legislative initiative he wants. And from a sheer vote counting viewpoint, that would certainly be true.
But could the countervailing force not be the oft-spineless Republicans with their limited votes in Congress?
Could the real counter come from the financial markets themselves, which sense both the magnitude of the economic downturn and how Obama’s proposed statist solutions will only compound the problems and adversely impact any recovery?…
So is it a race between a financial market collapse, accelerated by its reaction to Obama’s policy proposals, and Obama’s aggressive and statist policy implementation effort?
Will the financial markets then be the force which galvanizes a broad reaction from the American people?…
Incentives matter deeply and drive human behavior. It is a lesson statists and socialists never learn…
Ledeen on de Tocqueville from the second link above:
…We will not be bludgeoned into submission; we will be seduced. [Tocqueville] foresees the collapse of American democracy as the end result of two parallel developments that ultimately render us meekly subservient to an enlarged bureaucratic power: the corruption of our character, and the emergence of a vast welfare state that manages all the details of our lives. His words are precisely the ones that best describe out current crisis:
That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
It is evident that our associations, along with religion one of the two keys to the great success of the American experiment, are prime targets for the appetite of the state. In the seamless web created by the new tyranny, everything from the Boy Scouts to smoking clubs will be strictly regulated. It is no accident that the campaign to drive religion out of American public life began in the 1940s, when the government was consolidating its unprecedented expansion during the Depression and the Second World War, having asserted its control over a wide range of activities that had previously been entrusted to the judgment of private groups and individuals.
When we console ourselves with the thought that the government is, after all, doing it for a good reason and to accomplish a worthy objective, we unwittingly turn up the temperature under our lobster-pot. The road to the Faustian Deal is paved with the finest intentions, but the last stop is the ruin of our soul.
Permitting the central government to assume our proper responsibilities is not merely a transfer of power from us to them; it does grave damage to our spirit. It subverts our national character. In Tocqueville’s elegant construction, it “renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself.”…
…The great Israeli historian Jacob Talmon coined the perfect name for this perversion of the Enlightenment dream, which enslaves all in the name of all: totalitarian democracy.
These extreme cases help us understand Tocqueville’s brilliant warning that equality is not a defense against tyranny, but an open invitation to ambitious and cunning leaders who enlist our support in depriving ourselves of freedom. He summarizes it in two sentences that should be memorized by every American who cherishes freedom:
The…sole condition required in order to succeed in centralizing the supreme power in a democratic community is to love equality, or to get men to believe you love it. Thus the science of despotism, which was once so complex, is simplified, and reduced, as it were, to a single principle.
Will the next question for these disillusioned pundits be to ask whether Obama is truly clueless on economic issues OR whether he is intentionally acting in a way to bring down the economy so as to justify his socialist beliefs/policies?
One man’s thoughts (H/T).
There is a paper trail which stands behind these thoughts regarding Obama’s radical beliefs – More here, here, here, here, and here.
Then there is Obama’s pre-election paper trail with numerous links to his many statements not covered well by the MSM.
A thoughtful person has to admit that no other U.S. President has ever had political connections or espoused beliefs which are so questionnable and out-of-line with mainstream opinions.
Is the evidence pattern enough to at least make more people stop and think about what are Obama’s true intentions? Will they then take the next step and speak up against Obama’s wealth-destroying and liberty-limiting policies?
Or are we all going to be looking belatedly for our own support groups where we talk about how we were also duped?
Power Line writes:
[Obama doing it intentionally] is, I admit, an intriguing theory, but I don’t buy it. Obama can’t possibly want to be a one-term failure. That’s what happened to Jimmy Carter, and Obama must know that it will happen to him, too, if his policies are perceived as dragging down the economy.
More likely the explanation is that Obama is an economic illiterate, and subscribes to the idea–which I think is rather common among Democrats–that what the government does has little impact on the economy. Obama likely believes that the economy will recover on its own, and in the meantime–in Rahm Emanuel’s immortal words–he shouldn’t let the crisis go to waste. So he enacts every left-wing measure that he wanted to do anyway, expecting that when the economy eventually recovers he can take credit for it, even though his policies, if anything, retarded and weakened the recovery.
That’s a cynical strategy, although not quite as cynical as destroying the economy on purpose; the difference is that it may well work.
During the general election, Obama showed himself to be ignorant about history so it is not unreasonable that he would also be economically illiterate, too.
But he is also showing himself to be quite the leftist ideologue. Since ideologues act based on their faith beliefs, regardless of empirical evidence, I think it is hard to say definitively it is just illiteracy.
Boskin: Obama’s Radicalism is Killing the Dow. Rubin’s comments:
…Democrats may shrink from the label “socialist,” but they can’t deny the scope and direction of the president’s agenda. More important, they’re not embracing a model which has (ever?) succeeded in producing growth and prosperity. So whatever you call it, it is not a recipe for recovery.
The radical implications of Obama’s budget proposal. Victor Davis Hanson provides some historical context. Michael Barone:
The Obama tax plan, combined with major state tax plans, puts not a three in front of the high earners’ tax rate as the Clinton plan did, it puts a four or a five in front of it. And at that point, I fear, the animal spirits of high earners are going to be directed away from productive investment and toward tax avoidance and tax shelters. Away from creating new enterprises that can provide avenues upward for any and all, and toward gaming the system for the well-connected and shrewd insiders. Away from an economy that grows more than anyone imagined and toward an economy where system-gamers take shares of a static pie away from the rest of us. Is that where we really want to go?
Fred Barnes is onto the scam: “Given the moderate-to-conservative viewpoint of voters, Obama has a motive in pushing to have his uniformly liberal agenda approved by Congress as rapidly as possible–before voters catch on to the fact it’s not what they voted for.”
Or to put it differently, the Wall Street Journal editors conclude that “economies don’t spiral down forever without a reason and without policy encouragement. What’s worrying about the plunge in equities since January 2, and especially in the last week since Mr. Obama released his radical budget, is that it has come amid the unveiling of the President’s policy agenda. Equity prices have reacted to those proposals by signaling that they expect a much deeper and longer recession.”…
Charles Krauthammer calls Obama on the bait-and-switch: “Clever politics, but intellectually dishonest to the core. Health, education and energy — worthy and weighty as they may be — are not the cause of our financial collapse. And they are not the cure. The fraudulent claim that they are both cause and cure is the rhetorical device by which an ambitious president intends to enact the most radical agenda of social transformation seen in our lifetime.” Actually the proposals not only aren’t the cure, the taxes and regulatory regime which accompany these plans are likely to make things worse.
Healthcare policy: The latest example of Obama’s disdain for liberty.
Rediscovering first principles. (Lots more here if you want to do a deep dive on many first principles.)
A focused, video comparison between two different world views: Obama versus Reagan.