Monday, March 9, 2009

The Great Pretender

Robert Samuelson, an economist and WaPo columnist, calls Obama the great "pretender", for saying he's doing things he really isn't.

To those who believe that Barack Obama is a different kind of politician -- more honest, more courageous -- please don't examine his administration's budget. If you do, you may sadly conclude that he resembles presidents stretching back to John Kennedy in one crucial respect. He won't tax voters for all the government services they want. That's the main reason we've run budget deficits in 43 of the past 48 years.

Obama is a great pretender. He repeatedly says he is doing things that he isn't, trusting his powerful rhetoric to obscure the difference. He has made "responsibility" a personal theme; the budget's cover line is "A New Era of Responsibility." He says the budget begins "making the tough choices necessary to restore fiscal discipline." It doesn't.

With today's depressed economy, big deficits are unavoidable for some years. But let's assume that Obama wins reelection. By his last year, 2016, the economy presumably will have long recovered. What does his final budget look like? Well, it runs a $637 billion deficit, equal to 3.2 percent of the economy (gross domestic product), projects Obama's Office of Management and Budget. That would match Ronald Reagan's last deficit, 3.1 percent of GDP in 1988, so fiercely criticized by Democrats.

As a society, we should pay in taxes what it costs government to provide desired services. If benefits don't seem equal to burdens, then the spending isn't worth it.

This is either a case of truthfully stating that the Emperor has no clothes, or it is a false accusation. Time will tell which it is. In either case, it's a pretty bold statement from a non-ideologue who has a reputation of telling it like it is.

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