Obama's Double-Talk: While the President Talks Sobriety, His Policies Take America on an Economic Bender
Welch, Matt, Reason
HIGH-FLYING presidencies tend to reveal their base character in trivial moments. In March 2002, when the nation was still massively behind George W. Bush in the wake of the September IT attacks, he gave the first obvious signal that his administration would play cheap politics even in a time of grave global uncertainty by slapping a temporary new tariff on imported steel. If the world's fragile economy and the putatively bedrock principles of free trade could be sold out for a couple of percentage points in contested Rust Belt states, we shouldn't have been surprised to learn that the very "war on terror" would be subject to political manipulation, or that Bush's skin-deep economic philosophy could not be counted on in a crisis. The costs of what this move revealed became clear soon enough, and eventually Americans withdrew their benefit of the doubt.
Barack Obama's revelatory moment may have come in his first week as president. On his first day of work, he signed an executive order prohibiting lobbyists from holding high-ranking administration jobs, thereby fulfilling a campaign promise to "close the revolving door" between K Street and government via "the most sweeping ethics reform in history." Two days later, the president granted a "waiver" from the new rules to install Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn as the No. 2 man in the Pentagon.
As offenses go, the move was trivial. But as a signal of a governing pathology, it established a pattern that Obama has repeated serially since being sworn into office: reiterate a high-sounding promise from the campaign, undermine said promise with a concrete act of governance to the contrary, then claim with a straight face that the campaign promise has been and will continue to be fulfilled.
So candidate Obama promised to usher in the "most transparent administration in history,' in part by making sure the American people were allowed to read each proposed nonemergency law for at least five days before the president signs it. Yet in his first month, President Obama signed three laws from the liberal wish list--the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), the Lily Ledbetter Fair Play Act, and the $787 billion "stimulus" package--in less than five days. Explained the White House: "We will be implementing this policy in full soon.... Currently we are working through implementation procedures."
The SCHIP law, which was paid for in part by a cigarette tax hike of 6I cents a pack, also put the lie to a pledge Obama repeated after its passage in his first address before a joint session of Congress. "Let me be perfectly clear," he said on February 24, with less than perfect clarity. "If your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime."
But not only is the cigarette tax a "tax" (and worth six dimes at that), it's among the most regressive kind possible, since poorer people are more likely to smoke and spend a larger share of their incomes on cigarettes than richer smokers do. And it's hardly the only tax Obama will levy on those not yet in the quarter-million club. In that same speech, and also in the budget proposal he handed to Congress shortly thereafter, the president called for a cap-and-trade system for companies that emit carbon. That would surely translate into a price increase on every gallon of gasoline sold in the United States, a change that would have more impact on the household budgets of working-class heroes than those of modern-day plutocrats.
Spending? Candidate Obama promised "a net spending cut" in which "every dollar that I've proposed, I've proposed an additional cut so that it matches." President Obama has proposed the largest net spending increase since World War II, even while holding summits on "fiscal responsibility" and vowing to live by the same "pay as you go" principles he's already blown to smithereens.