Politics & Policy

Obama’s Reality Problem

The president has crafted a fantasy universe.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is available exclusively through King Features Syndicate. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact: kfsreprint@hearstsc.com, or phone 800-708-7311, ext. 246.

Justice Samuel Alito let a pained expression pass his face and muttered, “Not true.” His reaction to Pres. Barack Obama’s demagogic attack on the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision aptly summed up the entire State of the Union address.

Obama warned that the decision striking down restrictions on corporate spending opened “the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.” But the court explicitly left untouched a statute that bans election spending by foreign corporations, even “indirectly.” There isn’t even a “loophole” for U.S. subsidiaries of foreign firms, as the White House claimed in damage-control mode.

Since Massachusetts, the Left has been badly disoriented. It can’t process the fact that the cradle of contemporary liberalism elected a Republican in a contest that was a referendum on health care. So, it has thrown up a thick cloud of rationalizations and delusion from which Obama emerged briefly to man his teleprompters before the nation.

He spoke for more than an hour, but the quick gloss might have been, “It’s not my fault, and please ignore your lying eyes.” Obama did everything in the speech — reach out to the middle class, feel people’s pain, try to recapture the stirring magic of past oratory — except acknowledge what people dislike about his agenda and recalibrate accordingly.

Obama noted that we had a budget surplus of more than $200 billion in 2000, and a deficit of more than $1 trillion before he took office. It’s true that the fiscal picture deteriorated dramatically with the recession and the Troubled Asset Relief Program, prior to Obama’s ascension. But Obama’s historic spending spree and ever-growing entitlements are what create the current $1 trillion deficits as far as the eye can see.

As an antidote, he now wants a three-year spending freeze on about 13 percent of the federal budget. This portion of the budget has seen an almost 20 percent increase during the past two years, not including gigantic boosts in the stimulus bill. The freeze is supposed to save $15 billion next year, but Obama called in his address for a new “jobs bill” that, in the House, has a price tag of another $150 billion. The freeze, in other words, is a simulacrum of fiscal restraint painted in red ink.

So alarmed is Obama by the spiraling debt that he committed to the bold step of naming a bipartisan commission. Of course, nothing’s stopping Obama from proposing a budget that puts us on a more sustainable path. He is, after all, president of the United States. (You can tell by his stately and impressive teleprompters.)

But Obama has another priority — namely, passing a new health-care entitlement. He attributed its difficulties to his failure to explain it “more clearly.” The real problem is that he can’t explain it more honestly.

He said in his address that the bill would “preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan” — even though the Congressional Budget Office says millions will lose their current employer-provided coverage. He said it would reduce premiums for millions — when it will increase premiums for millions of others. He maintained that the CBO estimates it will reduce the deficit by “as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades” — but even the CBO considers the assumptions behind that estimate flimsy.

It isn’t that people haven’t heard all this before from Obama; it’s that they don’t believe it. This is what Obama refers to as “a deficit of trust.”

To heal it, he plugged for more lobbyist disclosure. Is that going to stop the White House from, say, cutting deals to give unions special exemptions from taxes? Obama must have a truly audacious faith in the forgetfulness and credulity of the public.

The president has a reality problem. He’s crafted a fantasy universe where he and his friends can live unperturbed by our center-right country, comforted by just-so stories. The rest of us can only, like Justice Alito, crinkle our noses and mutter, “Not true.”

– Rich Lowry is editor of National Review. © 2010 by King Features Syndicate.

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