Obama's Ominous Surprises

By Frum, David | Newsweek, December 10, 2012 | Go to article overview

Obama's Ominous Surprises


Frum, David, Newsweek


Byline: David Frum

This is a good moment to be a Democrat. The economy shows signs of accelerating. The president visibly holds the upper hand in the "fiscal cliff" negotiations. Republicans look in disarray.

But the moment won't last. A number of nasty surprises could be waiting just around the corner, ready to turn President Obama's world upside down. Here are three of them.

Swan Dive Off the Fiscal Cliff. Optimism is building about some kind of resolution of the fiscal-cliff problem before the end of the year. House Speaker John Boehner and the president have been conferring. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, after briefing Hill leaders on the dangers of failure, submitted a plan on Thursday involving revenue measures and Medicare cuts. Republicans predictably protested.

But it's one thing to propose a deal, another to deliver it.

Many Republicans believe that the president is bluffing. As former Bush economic adviser (and now-influential economic blogger) Keith Hennessey argues: "The president cannot afford to veto a bill and have no compromise enacted ... a[umlaut][H]is veto would trigger a recession that a[umlaut]would severely damage his agenda ..."

If congressional Republicans believe the president is bluffing, some will be tempted to call that bluff--especially politically ambitious congressional Republicans like House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. Ryan obviously wants to run for president in 2016. He must fear that any vote that can be defined as a deviation from conservative principle will be used against him in the GOP primaries.

It's in Ryan's interest to oppose a budget deal--and lose. The problem is that many other House Republicans share that interest. Which means they might win.

The Arab Spring Gets Wintry. If ever there were a misnamed event, the "Arab Spring" is it. Spring conjures up images of renewal, rebirth, lambs gamboling in fresh grass, young love, etc. But what we're actually seeing in the Middle East is a seizure of power by political Islamists--and a new exploration of the oldest rule of Arab politics: "Things can always get worse."

So far, the region's disturbances have not much touched Gulf oil producers. (Although Bahrain, a non-oil-producing Gulf ally with a major U.S. naval base, had some touch-and-go moments.) What if that seeming stability comes to an end? …

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