The Corner

Ken Burns: Wrong on Obama

Historical filmmaker Ken Burns recently penned a column for New Hampshire’s Union Leader titled, “Why I am voting for Barack Obama.” Burns rehearses several of the most common arguments for Obama’s re-election, and in doing so, he unwittingly exposes the flimsiness of the rationale for subjecting America to four more years of Obamaism.

• “President Obama took office at a time when lax regulation of the financial industry had brought us to the brink of a complete collapse,” Burns writes. “All Mitt Romney seems to offer is a return to the very policies that got us into this mess in the first place.”

Burns echoes Obama’s favorite rhetorical flourish, namely to blame his GOP predecessor for America’s every ill.

President G. W. Bush’s overspending and regulatory excesses certainly helped get us “into this mess in the first place.” However, the biggest oil slick on which America spun out before tumbling into the ditch pre-dated Bush; it was Big Government liberalism.

Washington’s ham-handed policies, such as the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 (signed by Jimmy Carter and reinforced by his successors) and relentless efforts to provide “affordable housing” placed too many home mortgages in the hands of borrowers who could not repay them. Federal rules weakened lending requirements. Banks that did not lend to uncreditworthy members of minority groups were accused of racism and threatened with federal anti-discrimination lawsuits. The Federal Reserve printed piles of money that kept interest rates low. And federal “government-sponsored enterprises,” namely Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, bought tons of dodgy debt. This stimulated and nourished the market for mortgage-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, and other financial exotica.

“We spoke with interesting people like Congressman Barney Frank and Senator Chris Dodd,” former CEO of BB&T Bank and new Cato Institute president John Allison said this afternoon. Speaking at Cato’s Policy Perspectives 2012 luncheon at Manhattan’s Waldorf=Astoria Hotel, Allison added: “We told them it was a mathematical certainty that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would go broke. But they wouldn’t listen, because they had a religious belief in affordable housing.”

As Barney Frank declared: “I want to roll the dice a little bit more in this situation towards subsidized housing.’’

Eventually, this wobbly superstructure, built upon a foundation of federal interventions and regulations, came crashing down in 2007–08. Thus, the “genius” of Washington was at least as responsible for “this mess” as was the “greed” of Wall Street.

#more#• Burns claims that a second Obama term would include “a request that the very super rich, folks like Gov. Romney . . . pay their fair share” of income taxes.


Any such “request” under a re-elected President Obama would be chiseled into the Internal Revenue Code. It also would come with civil and criminal penalties, including federal prison sentences, for anyone who disobeyed Obama’s “request” for higher taxes.

A request is not a request when it is delivered at gun point.

Behind this oft-stated “request” cliché, echoed in Democratic speeches that “ask” the affluent to pay more, lies Obama’s desperation to sign a new tax bill to force even higher taxes on those making as little as $200,000 — not just Obama’s reviled “millionaires and billionaires.” As for “their fair share,” the latest IRS data confirm that the top 1 percent of tax filers earned 18 percent of national income in 2009, but paid 37 percent of income tax. The top 10 percent of filers generated 43 percent of national income and paid 70 percent of income tax. Is that not “fair” enough?

• Burns complains that “Obama has had to pretty much go it alone.” He claims that “the Republican Party ignored his gestures of compromise and bipartisanship.” Burns adds that the GOP took compromise and “tried to turn it into a dirty word.”

Burns should know that Obama’s “gestures of compromise and bipartisanship” included Democratic use of the budgetary-reconciliation process to short-circuit the Senate’s filibuster rules and hot wire Obamacare into law, over unanimous GOP opposition. “Compromise” included Obama telling the GOP “I won” early in his presidency, signaling that he, then–House speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid would do whatever they wished, Republicans be damned. Obama did not “pretty much go it alone” because the GOP would not cooperate. He did so because, for Obama’s first two years, Pelosi passed what she wanted to pass, and Reid ran the Senate as he and other Democrats bloody pleased. Obama got a whole lot of his agenda enacted under Democratic control of the White House and Congress: an $833 billion “stimulus,” Cash for Clunkers, housing bailouts, green-energy boondoggles, Dodd-Frank, Obamacare, and even the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (a rare good thing), during the “lame duck” session after the Tea Party helped Republicans secure the House of Representatives in November 2010.

• Burns also hopes that “Romney doesn’t get his way, and PBS isn’t eliminated.”

Mitt Romney has no plans to “eliminate” the Public Broadcasting System. He has endorsed terminating its government subsidies. According to Brent Baker of the Media Research Center, the federal share of PBS’ budget is just 15 percent. Assuming Romney “eliminates” that, will the other 85 percent of PBS’s cash suddenly vanish? No.

Besides, why should Uncle Sam keep borrowing money from China to fund a TV channel that arose in 1970 as an alternative to the oligopoly of ABC, CBS, and NBC? Today, anyone seeking to escape NBC’s America’s Got Talent, for instance, can tune into C-SPAN, the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, or the History Channel; watch educational DVDs, check the Internet for an infinite number of enlightening options, or simply turn off the electronic gear and read a book.

Regardless, PBS will do just fine, thank you, as an independent non-profit entity or as a fully privatized broadcast and communications network.

Ken Burns is a capable, compelling, and captivating filmmaker and a brilliant “student of history,” as he describes himself. Too bad he is so shockingly unaware of current events.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.


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