Monday, September 14, 2009

DC tea party II

What made them come? (photo credit)

The D.C. tea party protest this weekend raises the question of why so many people decided to participate. As I said before, seeing a bunch of conservatives out in the streets is highly unusual. While protest is almost second nature to the political left, constantly taking a righteous stand against oppression and the establishment, conservatives tend to be more of a stay at home crowd. If you're Bill Maher or Maureen Down the answer is probably easy: racism. A bunch of yahoos upset that someone of color occupies the White House.

Such explanations are to be expected, for there is a massive unwillingness to grant Obama's opponents any kind of legitimacy. After all, to acknowledge that Obama's critics may have a valid point is to invite undesirable scrutiny that may undermine the mystique surrounding the man.

I would instead argue the more accurate explanation is that Obama's self-portrayal as a common sense centrist, more interested in achieving results than advancing ideology, is being revealed as farce. Take for example this statement from the inaugural address:
But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed.
I absolutely agree with this statement. Unfortunately it doesn't mesh at all with actions Obama has taken since taking the oath of office. Instead of taking on special interests, Obama has sought to placate or even reward them. To wit:
  • Health care special interests have been bought off to advance the administration's agenda.
  • Tariffs imposed on imported Chinese tires, raising prices on American consumers in order to appease the steelworker's union.
  • De facto nationalization of the auto companies resulting in unions being handed a sweet deal in which they faced neither a reduction in either pay or benefits.
Later in the same speech Obama declared that:
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.
Again, this sounds great but is difficult to reconcile with what has taken place since these words were uttered. While no government programs of any significance have been ended, huge new schemes are being proposed, at least partly run by a phalanx of "czars". The rhetoric is again sharply divorced from the reality.

And then, perhaps most egregiously, there was this promise of fiscal prudence:
And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
This seems to flow almost directly from his campaign vow to have a "net spending cut":
Now, what I've done throughout this campaign is to propose a net spending cut...What I want to emphasize, though, is that I have been a strong proponent of pay-as- you-go. Every dollar that I've proposed, I've proposed an additional cut so that it matches.

...We need to eliminate a whole host of programs that don't work. And I want to go through the federal budget line by line, page by page, programs that don't work, we should cut. Programs that we need, we should make them work better.
Instead, however, we have been confronted with a massive "stimulus package" floated only short weeks after Obama's election, resulting in a $787 billion bill that is likely to feature a lot of fraud and political pork while failing to turn around the economy as its supporters claimed it would. Compounding it all, the President now proposes to spend $1 trillion on health care reform, claiming that it will produce a cost savings. If that doesn't make sense to you either, you're not alone.

In the context of such mind-boggling waste, absurd exercises such as the "cash for clunkers" program that handed out taxpayer money in exchange for destroying perfectly good automobiles appears unremarkable.

The talk of transparency and doing business in the light of day has similarly proven hollow.

Now, the obvious rejoinder to such anti-spending/government sentiment is to wonder where it was during the profligate days of the Bush Administration. Fair point. However, I can think of a few explanations:
  • Shortly after Bush took office the country found itself in a recession and at war. Most people will give you a mulligan for a large deficit in such a context.
  • The surging deficit in Bush's first term can also be explained as a product of his tax cuts. This is easier to stomach if you believe such cuts are likely to product long-term growth, which is not the case with government spending.
  • Bush campaigned on a drug prescription benefit for Medicare as well as an expanded federal role in education (No Child Left Behind). While I may disagree vehemently with both, at least the man was upfront about his agenda.
  • Starting in about 2004 the deficit declined every year thereafter. That's a sharp contrast with the present scenario, with large deficits as far as the eye can see.
  • While Bush and the Republican Congress had terrible fiscal records, what were people supposed to do? Vote for the Democrats? Democratic stewardship of Congress since 2007, and the Presidency this year, has not been a time of inspired fiscal leadership.
Americans are absolutely eager to embrace change. They would support a government that gets its fiscal house in order, is cognizant of its limited competencies and promotes the maximum amount of liberty for its people. They're just waiting for it to be offered.

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