Barack Obama just gave a belated but stern warning about escalating debt — a few weeks after he presented a 2011 budget with a $1.6 trillion deficit, the largest shortfall in American history. Congressional Republicans are now crowing about reducing Obama’s red ink by forcing some $38 billion in cuts. Such supposed slashing means America would borrow just $1,562 billion this year rather than the scheduled full $1,600 billion.
The administration expects that someone will have enough money to float us $4 billion to $5 billion a day in loans — either foreigners such as the Chinese, whom we are accustomed to lecturing about their illiberal habits, or our own wealthy, whom President Obama so often chides and threatens with higher taxes. Meanwhile, shrill critics of Congress’s modest cuts claim that the elderly, poor, sick, and helpless will be cast adrift if their government dares to trim its massive borrowing by less than 3 percent — or just about 1 percent of this year’s projected $3.7 trillion budget.
Obama borrowed more in the month of February alone ($223 billion) than did the spendthrift George W. Bush during the entire 2007 budgetary year ($163 billion). Obama recently asserted that not authorizing a lofty new national-debt ceiling would be partisan recklessness. He should know. In 2006, then-senator Barack Obama voted not to raise the debt ceiling and railed against out-of-control government spending under the Bush administration. But then, the annual deficit was one-fifth of what it is today. Apparently President Obama lives in an alternative universe from the one Senator Obama used to inhabit.
Gas is heading toward $4 a gallon nationwide — and might reach $5 by Labor Day. The world price for a barrel of oil is well over $100 — and climbing. In response, Obama praised Brazil for developing a vast new offshore oilfield and promised that the United States would readily buy the oil it produces.
The Obama administration has made it clear, however, that such messy drilling is for others. So, much of Alaska, the American West, and our coastal waters will remain off limits. The logic is that Americans can borrow to buy oil from foreign nations that are willing to drill in their fragile tundra, offshore seas, and natural preserves. Apparently the White House has not much concern about where we are going to get the cash, or how other nations are going to recover oil offshore more cleanly than we would.
Instead of a detailed plan for developing more sources of natural gas, oil, and coal, including tar sands and oil shale, we still hear infantile chants about “wind, solar, and millions of new green jobs.” But solar panels and windmills will not be up to fueling the nation’s 250 million passenger cars and trucks any time soon.
The president announced that he would support the Libyan rebels. He pointed to United Nations and Arab League authorizations to establish a no-fly zone and stop Qaddafi from killing his opponents. Helping the rebels win means using force to remove Qaddafi. Yet regime change is a mission that we insist is not our goal and would not be authorized by the international bodies to which we subordinate ourselves.
In truth, the Obama administration intervened without knowing who or what the Libyan rebels were, apparently on the theory that they were close to winning and seemed a far better option than Qaddafi. The first premise proved wrong; the second could be true but is still subject to debate. So we took a breather and quit military operations, hoping the Libyan mess would just go away, in the same way that dictators voluntarily stepped down in Egypt and Tunisia.
The U.S. government is no longer supposed to use hurtful vocabulary like “War on Terror,” “Islamic terrorism,” or “jihadist.” But some unnamed groups are still apparently trying to kill us. Otherwise, why would the White House keep the demonized Guantanamo Bay facility open? And for what purpose, and against whom, are we still employing the once-hated military tribunals, renditions, and preventive detention?
Fantasy apparently seems preferable to reality. In our new dream world, borrowed money need not be paid back. Cars may run on nasty gas, but only if it is produced in faraway places. Mean dictators should flee when told to leave. And radical Muslims are not really trying to kill us.
Like children, we turn on any spoilsport parent who nags us to stop borrowing, cut entitlements and government spending, start drilling and building power plants, get real about dictators in the Middle East, and keep vigilant against radical Islamic terrorists.
So we will keep dreaming until creditors, oil exporters, enemies, or terrorists wake us up.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern. © 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.