Politics & Policy

The Budget Fight and Obama’s Vindictive Streak

The president thinks negotiating with his “ideological” opponents on the budget is beneath him.

Shutting down the government in an effort to use a budget fight to get rid of Obamacare is not the strategy I would have recommended for the GOP. And while Republicans can be blamed for starting the shutdown, it’s increasingly apparent that President Obama and the Democrats deserve the lion’s share of blame for not only prolonging it but also making it as painful as possible.

Obama has always had a bit of a vindictive streak when it comes to politics. I think it stems from his Manichaean view of America. There are the reasonable people — who agree with him. And there are the bitter clingers who disagree for irrational or extremist ideological reasons.

In his various statements over the last week, he’s insisted that opponents of Obamacare are “ideologues” on an “ideological crusade.” Meanwhile, he cast himself as just a reasonable guy interested in solving America’s problems. I have no issue with him calling Republican opponents “ideologues” — they are — but since when is Obama not an ideologue?

The argument about Obamacare is objectively and irrefutably ideological on both sides — state-provided health care has been an ideological brass ring for the Left for well over a century. But much of the press takes its cues from Democrats and sees this fight — and most other political fights — as a contest pitting the forces of moderation, decency, and rationality against the ranks of the ideologically brainwashed.

What’s unusual is the way Obama sees the government as a tool for his ideological agenda. During the fight over the sequester, Obama ordered the government to make the 2 percent budget cut as painful and scary as possible.

“It’s going to be very painful for the flying public,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned Americans.

“The FAA’s all-hands furloughs managed to convert a less than 4 percent FAA budget cut into a 10 percent air-traffic control cut that would delay 40 percent of flights,” the Wall Street Journal noted at the time. 

The Department of Homeland Security announced it might not be able to protect the nation’s borders, and in an effort to prove the point summarily released a couple thousand of immigrant detainees, many of them with criminal records.

Obama, the avowed problem solver, set out to create problems for the American people, just to prove how great government is and how crazy Republicans were for wanting to cut spending — much of the money borrowed from China — a little. But don’t you dare call him an ideologue!

Now, with the government shutdown and the looming fight over the debt ceiling, Obama’s doubling down on this ideologically perverse strategy.

The National Park Service, which has somehow become the unofficial goon squad of American liberalism, reversed course and let American World War II vets visit the WWII memorial in Washington, D.C. This is obviously good news. (I was waiting to see if Steven Spielberg would come out with a new Obama-friendly director’s cut of Saving Private Ryan in which the old guy at the end is dragged off in cuffs before he can reach Tom Hanks’s grave.)

Still, it cost the government more money to try to keep WWII vets out of an open-air memorial than it would have to just leave it be. In Virginia, the NPS ordered the Claude Moore Colonial Farm to shut down, even though it’s privately funded.

Far worse, Obama told CNBC’s John Harwood that Wall Street should be far more panicky about Republican efforts to use the debt ceiling to win concessions from the White House. I don’t blame Obama for being annoyed with Republicans for trying to use the debt ceiling the exact same way he did when he was a senator. But normally a sitting president doesn’t try to talk down the economy just to win a political point.

Whenever the Bush administration issued terror warnings, Democrats insinuated that it was all a cynical political stunt. But this week, the White House sent out National Intelligence Director James Clapper to whip up fears that national security would be imperiled by a shutdown less than 48 hours old.

When Republicans vote to fund essential or popular parts of the government, the response from Democrats is, in effect, “How dare they?” Nancy Pelosi calls the tactic “releasing one hostage at a time” — as if negotiators normally refuse to have hostages released unless it’s all at once.

In the 17 previous government shutdowns since 1977, presidents have worked to avoid them or lessen their impact. Obama has made no such effort out of an ideological yearning to punish his enemies, regardless of the collateral damage.

— Jonah Goldberg is the author of The Tyranny of Clichés, now on sale in paperback. You can write to him by e-mail at goldbergcolumn@gmail.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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