In the last three years, the president has taught us a great deal about America, the world, and himself.
Before Obama, many Americans still believed in massive deficit spending, whether as an article of fairness, a means to economic growth, or just a lazy fallback position to justify an out-of-control federal government. But after the failure of a nearly $800 billion “stimulus” program — intended to keep unemployment under 8 percent — no one believes any more that an already indebted government will foster economic growth by taking on another $4 trillion in debt. In other words, “stimulus” is mostly a dead concept. The president — much as he advised a barnstorming President Bush in 2005 to cease pushing Social Security reform on a reluctant population — should give it up and junk the new $500 billion program euphemistically designated as a “jobs bill.” The U.S. government is already borrowing every three days what all of America spent on Black Friday.
Obama has also taught us that prominent government intervention into the private sector often makes things worse, and invites crony-capitalist corruption. Nearly three years into this administration, it is striking how seldom Barack Obama brags about Cash for Clunkers, the Chrysler and GM bailouts, or Solyndra. He either is quiet about them or sort of shrugs, as if to say, “Stuff happens.” Even creative bookkeeping cannot mask the fact that the auto-company bailouts (begun, to be sure, by the Bush administration, but made worse under Obama) will prove a huge drain on the Treasury. No one even attempts any more to convince us that we will like Obamacare once we read the legislation, or that it will save us costs in the long run, or that it will cheer up businesses so that they will invest and hire. All that was dreamland, 2009, and this is reality, 2011, when we hear only “It could have been worse.”
Obama has also taught us that a president’s name, his father’s religion, his ethnic background, loud denunciations of his predecessor, discomforting efforts to apologize, bow, and contextualize past American actions — none of that does anything to lead to greater peace in the world or security for the United States. And by the same token, George Bush’s drawl, Texas identification, and Christianity did not magically turn allies into neutrals and neutrals into enemies.
Israel, Britain, and Eastern Europe are not closer allies now than they were in 2008. Iran is still Iran — and may be even a more dangerous adversary after the failed Obama outreach. Putin’s Russia, despite “reset” (a word we no longer much hear), is still Putin’s Russia. China still despises the U.S., and feels in 2011 that it is in a far better position to act on its contempt than it was in 2009. North Korea never got the “hope and change” message. Europe is collapsing, reminding the world where the United States is headed if it does not change course. Outreach didn’t seem to do much for the Castro brothers, Hugo Chávez, or Daniel Ortega. We are helping Mexico to sue our own states, but that does not seem to persuade its leaders to keep their citizens home. Muslim Pakistan went from a duplicitous ally to a veritable enemy. The more we bragged about Turkey, the more we could feel it holds us in contempt. We hope that the Libyan rebels and the Cairo protesters are headed toward democracy, but we privately admit that they seem to have no more interest in establishing it than we have in promoting it. In other words, Professor Obama reminds future presidents that the world will transcend their rhetoric, their pretensions, and their heritage. Other nations always calibrate their relations with the United States either by their own perceived self-interest, or by centuries-old American values and power, or both.