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Morning Jay: The Store Is Closed

6:00 AM, Aug 24, 2011 • By JAY COST
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In a recent interview with CBS, President Obama said:

I’m the President of the United States and when people aren’t happy with what’s happening in Washington...I’m gonna be impacted just like Congress is. And you know I completely understand that, we expected that.

But when you look at how people feel about my approach to deficit reduction or when you look at how people feel about my belief that we’ve gotta continue to invest in education or medical research or making sure that we’re rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our seaports and our airports, when you look at how people feel about the agenda to rebuild America so that it’s competitive in the 21st century that I’ve been promoting over the last couple of years, it turns out that people are supportive of that.

What they’re frustrated right now is they want me to be able to wrangle Congress and get them moving. And you know, we’ve got this thing, separation of powers, and we don’t have a parliamentary system. And it means that there are times where Congress is gonna do things despite what I saw as opposed to because I think this is the right direction for the country.

This is a theme that the president has been pushing since his 2004 convention speech. We’ve heard it time and again: There are forces out there (usually unnamed) who seek to divide us for their narrow agendas, but Barack Obama himself is the one man who rises above all this, who understands the true public interest and works tirelessly to realize it.

This message is why Obama attracted so many intellectuals, including some on the right, in the 2008 campaign. Rarely do we hear a politician capture so succinctly the challenge of republican government--how to translate the personal interests of 312 million Americans into the public good? Candidate Obama claimed he could do that, and nearly 53 percent of the electorate in 2008 believed him.

But President Obama behaved very differently in 2009 and 2010. Consider:

1. The stimulus bill. The idea behind the bill was to pump some $800 billion into the economy, but the point of entry for that money was largely through core Democratic constituencies. Government unions, trade unions and environmentalists were the most notable beneficiaries.

2. The auto bailout. The president forced the secured creditors of Chrysler to take a haircut while the United Auto Workers won a majority stake in the company.

3. The financial reform bill. The mega-banks like Goldman Sachs pumped tens of millions of dollars into President Obama’s 2008 campaign, and they enjoyed a great return on their investment. The financial reform bill was so watered down that even they ended up endorsing it, and worse, it reinforced their status as too big to fail.

4. Cap and trade. This would have imposed higher energy costs on middle America while handing out tens of billions of dollars in corporate welfare to industrial interests.

5. Health care. To correct the mistakes of Bill Clinton, Team Obama wooed the major health care "stakeholders" (i.e. interest groups) by tailoring the bill to their needs. So hospitals, doctors, the drug companies, the AARP all got special deals. Even the evil insurance companies were on board before they watered down the mandates. And why not? After all, the government was basically forcing all citizens to become their customers whether they wanted to or not. Meanwhile, what about average people? Millions of Americans will see their insurance costs go up, not down, and millions will be forced to change their coverage even if they don’t want to. And just when the budget is about to collapse from the weight of existing entitlements, the president added huge new health obligations!

I believe that Obama believes he is looking out for the public good, but that is merely a testament to his self-righteousness. At the start of Chapter 6 of the Audacity of Hope, he tells a story about a doctor who, after the 2004 Democratic Senate primary, says that he would vote for Obama were it not for the ardently pro-choice rhetoric on his website. After explaining that he did not write the offending words (of course!), Obama recounts how he ordered his staff to take the language down.

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