Politics & Policy

Punishing Success

Why Obama’s economy won’t improve

There are some on the right who believe that Barack Obama is intentionally steering the United States into disaster — that he privately rejoices in the dismal economy because it partially fulfills his objective to bring the country down.

This strikes me as, at the very least, overwrought. One would have to accept the idea that Gene Sperling, Timothy Geithner, and the president clapped one another on the back when the latest GDP figures arrived: “Four hundredths of a percent growth in the first quarter, 1.3 percent last quarter. Way to go! We’ll be in recession again in no time.”

#ad#Not likely. The president and his team were no doubt surprised and dismayed by the economy’s poor performance in the last six months. The president, after all, has announced his reelection campaign. The country was supposed to be well into the Obama recovery by now. Actually, the summer of last year was going to be, the Obama administration promised, the “recovery summer.”

The president’s team has taken to offering ever more creative explanations for the economy’s weakness. It was George Bush’s fault, or a “bump in the road,” or a response to the Eurozone crisis, or a consequence of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, or a result of the drought in the southwest. It’s reminiscent of the old Soviet Union’s explanation that for the 69th, 70th, and 71st consecutive year, poor weather had caused a bad harvest.

The president and his economic advisers should not be surprised, though, because this administration has not been about growth — it has been about “fairness.” And in the name of fairness, it has created the most anti-business climate since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. As Steve Wynn, CEO of Wynn Resorts, recently complained:

I’m saying it bluntly, that this administration is the greatest wet blanket to business and progress and job creation in my lifetime. And I can prove it, and I could spend the next three hours giving you examples of all of us in this marketplace that are frightened to death about all the new regulations, our health-care costs escalate, regulations coming from left and right.

It’s not that the president wants to hurt the country, it’s that he believes the government accomplished the best things this country has ever done. “We do big things,” he said in his State of the Union address in January. But when enumerating those things, he focused on the things government has done — building the interstate highway system, setting up the Internet, funding education (oh, do we ever fund education!). And that’s what he wants more of:

Over the last two years, we have begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. Tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble these efforts. We will put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We will make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based on what’s best for the economy, not politicians. Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car.

The president is dazzled by the vision of those shiny high-speed trains — and by solar panels, electric cars, and other pet projects that have caught his imagination. What he has been unwilling to do is permit the vast private sector to make its own decisions — to follow its own ideas.

Instead, the administration has been saddling the private sector with a stifling load of regulations. The burden of Obamacare, most of which does not take effect until 2014, is mostly in the realm of fear and uncertainty. Employers do not know how much each new hire will cost under the new health-care regime. Nor can they estimate how the 129 new boards, commissions, and agencies will affect the business world. Meanwhile, the EPA is regulating carbon dioxide as an air pollutant. The National Labor Relations Board is attempting to prevent the Boeing Corporation from opening a new plant in South Carolina. The FCC is seeking to exert control over Internet commerce through the deceptively named “net neutrality” policy. The Department of Labor is strictly enforcing racial and gender quotas. And the Federal Reserve, along with the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (created by the Dodd-Frank law) is practically freezing small-business lending.          

This president has spun fantasies about the industries of tomorrow, while punishing the industries of today. His fulminations against “millionaires and billionaires” and his wrath about “corporate jets” betray a fundamentally childish urge to punish success. Under his economic stewardship, there is less and less of that around.

Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2011 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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