Is Pandering to the Tea Baggers the Best Obama Can Do?

obamaI have tried to be optimistic about Barack Obama. I so much wanted America’s first black President to be a roaring success, to go down in history as a transformational force for his country and the world. But it will be hard for me to keep the faith if what I’m hearing is true.

According to news reports, Obama’s State of the Union address tomorrow night will include a pledge to freeze  government spending on domestic programs. Could this really come out of Obama’s mouth? It sounds so very much like George W. Bush.

Here’s an excerpt from a 2004 news report quoting Bush:

Holding non-defense, non-homeland security discretionary spending to less than 1 percent, as the Bush administration will propose Monday, would make hardly a dent in the Congressional Budget Office’s projected $362 billion fiscal 2005 deficit, according to documents to be distributed to lawmakers by the House Appropriations Committee at this weekend’s bicameral GOP retreat in Philadelphia. 

The 2005 Bush budget did include drastic cuts in domestic spending. It proposed the elimination of 128 social programs. But as the world knows, American deficits soared to record heights under Bush, fueled by military adventures and tax breaks for the rich.

Did Obama not know about this? Did he not know that the budget-freeze idea was tried and had failed under his predecessor?

Did he not know that FDR tried much the same thing back in 1937 – and sabotaged his New Deal, sending the country sliding back into a depression from which only a world war could save it?

Is he unaware of George Santayana’s famous admonition that leaders who forget history are doomed to repeat its mistakes?

Obama is not an economist, but he reads widely. And he is an educated man, a law professor. He must be aware of the blunders of the past. So what on earth could persuade him to do such a wrong-headed thing as freeze government spending at a time like this?

Economics is no longer the guessing game it used to be. Over the years, statistical tools have been developed and records have been kept to provide factual support for once disputed theories. And most economists will tell you that the worst thing a government can do in a recession is to cut spending.

The greenest college freshman must know by now that in lean times, governments should spend to stimulate the economy, and in prosperous times governments should rein in spending to curb inflation. That’s no longer Keynesian economics; it’s just economics. In fact, it’s just common sense.

By shutting down government spending now, the government would put the brakes on the economic recovery that is slowly starting to occur. The result could only be less purchasing power, leading to declining sales, which in turn would lead to more layoffs. And that, of course, would mean even fewer people with money to spend, triggering an inevitable downward cycle.

The only hope the country has of stemming the flow of red ink is to rev up production. The emphasis should be on stimulating robust growth, which in turn would produce government revenues to pay down the deficit.  It might not work, of course. These are desperate times. But there’s no better alternative.

spendingSo what on earth is the President up to?

I am ashamed to think it, but it seems very much as if he is pandering. He must have seen those signs the Tea Party protesters carry, the ones that warn against the country’s rising debt (like the sign at right). But the signs were not painted by the people carrying them. They were provided by PR “professionals” paid to cause trouble for the Obama administration. I doubt very much that the protesters themselves have a clue about the way government budgeting works.

Most of them are mad as hell for other reasons, including the fact that a black man was elected President.

Talking about freezing government spending won’t placate those people. The only thing he can do to make them happy is to turn white.

If he were really the Anti-Christ as some of the protester proclaim, I guess he could do that. But, otherwise, he will just have to ignore their yelling and try to govern as best he can.

Of course, it’s possible that the news reports are wrong, that the President is not planning to announce a spending freeze in tomorrow night’s State of the Union address. I, for one, will be all ears.