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The Real Obama

The budget of a left-wing progressive.

Feb 27, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 23 • By FRED BARNES
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President Obama’s budget for 2013 is pure Obama. How do we know? Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, was once asked how to become a budget expert. “You have to read the budget,” he said. To know Obama, it’s similar. You have to read the speeches and look over the budgets. 

Cartoon of Obama

Gary Locke

For the past year, they’ve told the same story. No, the real Obama is not a pragmatist or a frustrated moderate or a well-intentioned but weak politician forced by political circumstances to take positions he’d rather not. Only sympathizers, notably media types, believe any of those notions.

The truth is not hidden. One merely has to digest the new budget Obama unveiled last week, his budget last year, and his four major speeches since last April, and the real Obama comes into focus. He turns out to be a left-wing progressive who rejects many of the mainstream political and economic ideas of post-World War II America.

This is not an entirely new take on Obama. Others have identified him as such, Stanley Kurtz in particular. What’s new is that Obama has been so revealing in his own words. Only occasionally do you have to read between the lines to discover what he truly thinks.

I’ve gleaned his views from the two budgets and from the “reducing the budget” speech in April 2011, the address to a special session of Congress on jobs in September 2011, the speech at Osawatomie, Kansas, last December, and the State of the Union address last month. Here’s what the president not only believes but is committed to:

(1) America is an unjust and deeply unfair country. “The basic bargain that made this country great has eroded,” Obama said at Osawatomie. “Hard work [has] stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefited from that success.” 

If he’d said that only once, it would be unremarkable and hardly central to his thinking. But he’s emphasized it in speech after speech. Americans “have seen the decks too often stacked against them,” he said in the jobs speech to Congress. The recession “left innocent, hard-working Americans holding the bag,” Obama declared in the State of the Union.

(2) A looming debt crisis? Forget it. Obama hardly mentioned the deficit or the national debt in the State of the Union, though his budget has a $1.3 trillion deficit, and the debt is rising past $16 trillion into a fiscal danger zone. If he’s worried, he hasn’t let on in any serious way.

(3) Government spending is better at spurring the economy than private investment. “Yes, business and not government will always be the prime generator of good jobs,” he said at Osawatomie. That was lip service. He took it away in the next sentence. “As a nation, we’ve always come together, through our government, to help create the conditions where both workers and businesses can succeed.” The key phrase was “through our government,” which for Obama means Washington-directed programs, not incentives for private investment.

(4) Tax reform should flush loopholes and special breaks out of the tax code, broaden the base, and raise tax rates for the well-to-do. This isn’t bipartisan tax reform in which cutting income tax rates for everyone is one of the most important aspects—far from it.

(5) When the rich get richer, the middle class and poor get worse off. Obama often mentions the middle class and the poor one after the other. He doesn’t claim a cause and effect. But the implication is there’s at least a correlation. You don’t get prosperity for the few without declining prospects for the many. Obama doesn’t believe in a growing economic pie.

(6) Conservative, free market economics is a plague. Obama describes it as an economic system that tells Americans, “You’re on your own.” In his view, it consists of cutting taxes for the rich and gutting regulations of every kind.

Even worse, Obama said at Osawatomie, “it doesn’t work. It has never worked. It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It’s not what led to the incredible postwar booms of the 50s and 60s.” Nor did it work in the 2000s, he said. “Understand, it’s not as if we haven’t tried this theory.” But he didn’t mention the Reagan years, when the economy recovered from a recession and boomed.

(7) Medicare and Medicaid are not big problems. The huge deficits they are projected to generate can be handled by “modest adjustments,” he said in the jobs speech. The president’s fiscal commission headed by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson thought otherwise. Ryan calls the two programs the chief “debt drivers.” Without Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and unemployment benefits, Obama said in April, “We would not be a great country.”

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