Why is it hard to take seriously what President Obama says this week on the fiscal cliff and the debt? Maybe, because he has said about the opposite in the past.
“Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.” That’s what Senator Obama said when in 2006 he voted against the Bush administration’s upping the U.S. debt ceiling to $9 trillion — a quote that joins the catalogue of: “The problem is, is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up the national debt from $5 trillion for the first 42 presidents — No. 43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome, so that we now have $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back — $30,000 for every man, woman and child. That’s irresponsible. It’s unpatriotic,” and, of course, “Today I’m pledging to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office.” Would Senator Obama have wished George Bush unilaterally to have set the debt limit without the Congress’s oversight?
In general, when Obama is outraged about something, or accuses his opponents of bad faith or questions someone’s patriotism, it is usually the case that his own past declarations are at odds with what he later asserts as unassailable fact — the above could be done with Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, Iraq, detentions, drilling, civility, almost anything. The problem is not that Obama, like all politicians, so serially contradicts what he once declared as fact; but that he does it so emphatically and with such little concern that he is making things up as he goes along — with no real idea or worry about what he has recently just as emphatically declared as true. Thus the inflated adjectives (“unpatriotic”), and psychodramatic bluster (“I am pledging. . . ” “Americans deserve better”).
At this point, about the best that could be done would either be a compromise to adopt the rather moderate proposals of the Simpson-Bowles commission or to go over the cliff — since the cliff is, in fact, a misnomer. Given the huge scale of the debt, the “cliff” is more like an anthill — inasmuch as the level of borrowing and accumulated obligations that will remain after any compromise is staggering.