The United States seems to be enduring a prolonged Groundhog Day. No matter what happens, responses from the governing liberal establishment remain the same. At the prospect of freer elections in Egypt, the New York Times produces pages of anesthetizing treacle on the benignity of the Muslim Brotherhood. The same people who told us the Viet Cong were agrarian reformers in a civil war who made their own weapons, and that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was an idealist who would end the Shah’s police excesses and govern with the godly severity but honest scruple of Pius IX in the Papal States, tell us now that the assassins of Anwar Sadat are moderate reformers driven to occasional attacks of extremism by the oppressive provocations of our departed Egyptian ally.
Columnist Tom Friedman, in the same pages, briefly set aside his passionate concerns about global warming in the midst of this frigid winter, and the need to put a hand-held communication device in the fingers of everyone in the world above the age of three weeks, to complain about Israeli settlements. The ability of Mr. Friedman to continue to believe that Israeli settlements have anything to do with the attainment of a durable peace in the region is a triumph of superstitious self-brainwashing over mind, spirit, and flesh. If the Israelis designated everything built in the Jerusalem area since 1948 as a settlement and abandoned it to be turned into homes for retired unsuccessful suicide bombers, the Palestinians would fasten on some new complaint. There will be no peace until the Palestinian leadership believes that it has no chance, and will have none, to get any more territory than they can negotiate for now, and that their long-term best interests and those of the Arab powers who sponsor and promote their acts of terrorism and infiltration will be best served by composing differences with Israel and accepting the permanence of a Jewish state.
And in Washington, after a long drum roll, and intimations of pending mountain-moving in deficit reduction, the Obama administration gave birth to a deformed mouse of a budget. On the basis of wildly optimistic forecasts of revenues from new taxes and economic-growth rates, the deficit is supposed to shrink to $1.1 trillion, more than the entire (M1) money supply (currency plus short-term or easily liquefiable deposits) in the first year of the Obama administration. There is a good deal of pie-in-the-sky over $2 trillion in deficit reductions over the next ten years, again based on 4 percent annual economic-growth rates, euphoric revenue and spending assumptions, and 95 percent of it after next year’s elections, after which Mr. Obama will be looking forward to skipping down the well-trodden path of the ex-president to immense wealth in an undreamed-of pay grade.
The administration ignored its own deficit commission, ignored the rather unambiguous message in the shellacking of 66 House members and six senators and the cadres of state and local government in almost every state just three months ago, and proposes to skip the opportunity to tackle the approaching train wrecks of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security before the great Baby Boomer population bubble leaves employment for the golden years of the beneficiaries. At this point there arises the Punxsutawney Phil — the supreme groundhog — of modern American politics, William Jefferson Clinton, nonstop tutor in political survival techniques to the president, and also a former standard-bearer of the new Democratic politics. Just as Mr. Clinton — shellacked himself in 1994 by Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, and their Contract with America — lured Mr. Gingrich into shutting down the government to try to enforce spending reductions, Mr. Obama has left it to the Republicans to tackle entitlements, as everyone with the benefit of a Grade Three education in arithmetic who examines the budget, however cursorily, can see must happen.