Something Obama Is Good at

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Barack Obama’s political genius is his ability to say things that will sound good to people who have not followed the issues in any detail — regardless of how obviously fraudulent what he says may be to those who have. Shameless effrontery can be a huge political asset, especially if uninformed voters outnumber those who are informed.

President Obama’s big pitch in his Monday night televised talk was that what is needed to deal with the national debt crisis is a “balanced” approach — not just spending cuts but revenue increases as well.

What could sound more reasonable — especially to those who have not been following what Obama has actually been doing and not doing? This is the same Barack Obama who, earlier this year, called for a “clean” increase in the national debt ceiling.

In this context, the soothing word “clean” referred to an increase in the national debt ceiling without any provisos. That is, no spending cuts at all. In other words, a blank check to keep spending. How balanced is that?

Another word that sounds good to people who don’t stop and think is “fair.” President Obama says that he only wants the wealthiest Americans to pay their “fair share.” But he says zilch about just what that fair share is, or even how to determine it.

Is the “fair share” of the top 10 percent of income-earners 20 percent of all taxes? 40 percent? 60 percent? Those who talk about paying a “fair share” of taxes don’t want to be pinned down.

This is another blank check that Obama wants. “Fair share” in plain English means “more,” regardless of how large a share of all income taxes is already being paid by a fraction of the population, while nearly half pay no income taxes at all.

What President Obama says may not make any sense if you stop and think about it — which he of course assumes that most people will not do. But that does not mean that he is a confused man. He is crystal clear in what he is doing, however confusing his words may be to others.

At the heart of the political games being played in Washington is taking credit and putting blame on the other guy. That is the game that Obama played flawlessly in his speech.

It began by referring to the increased government spending that had been going on for a decade — in other words, before Barack Obama reached the White House. It is true that President George W. Bush had a record amount of deficit spending. But what is also true is that President Obama’s deficit spending has broken Bush’s record.

While Obama seldom misses an opportunity to blame his problems on the situation he inherited from President Bush, he says nothing about all the hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus money he inherited from the Bush administration. Incidentally, this “stimulus” money did not do any more stimulating under George W. Bush than under Barack H. Obama.

Nevertheless, Obama is an accomplished master at playing the blame game. Having gotten all the political credit for the money he has showered on his favorites from coast to coast, he now seeks to share the blame for the resulting financial crisis with Republicans, by maneuvering them into a position where they have to help solve the debt crisis that Obama created.

He has done this in great part by simply speaking of spending cuts mostly in the abstract, leaving it to the Republicans to be specific, and thus have them face the wrath from the constituencies who support the programs they want to cut.

However one might criticize President Obama’s policies in terms of their effect on the American economy, those policies can turn out to be very successful in the terms that matter most to him — namely, his own re-election.

A Washington Post-ABC poll shows that while 52 percent of the public disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy, 65 percent disapprove of the Republicans’ handling of it.

The Republicans lost control of Congress in the 2006 elections. Whether the Republicans’ ideas are good, bad or indifferent, they have not been able to pass economic legislation — or any other kind of legislation — for more than four long years.

Yet Obama is still ahead in the blame game.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His Web site is www.tsowell.com. To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page.

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