"There are some things I really believe in,” President Obama said last week. He was putting it mildly. Actually there are some things he really, really, really believes in—whether they work or not. Either way, he’s sticking with them. And Obama is one stubborn dude.
This wouldn’t be a problem if only a few of his lesser policies were at stake. But it’s his economic, domestic, and foreign policies that he’s glued to, no matter what. Obama insists he’s “pretty pragmatic” about how he achieves his goals. Nothing could be further from the truth. A pragmatist would change failing policies or at least tweak them. Obama wants to double down.
That his policies have produced an extraordinarily weak recovery from the 2007-09 recession is indisputable. Economic growth is stagnant, unemployment is in a holding pattern above 7 percent, the number of Americans with jobs is fewer than in 2007, and millions have dropped out of the job market altogether. Yet the president refuses to alter his policies or seriously reconsider them.
On the contrary, “what’s hampering us right now is not that we don’t have good policy ideas,” Obama said at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in San Francisco. “We know what works.” If Republicans would agree to spend more on infrastructure, education, and research, the economy would surge.
And last week Obama found still another type of spending that boosts the economy: food stamps. Every food stamp dollar “generates up to $1.80 in economic activity . . . for the over 230,000 retail food outlets that participate in the program,” a White House paper claimed.
Notice that Obama’s plan is government-only—that is, spending he controls. Rather than offer incentives to the private sector to invest in growth and jobs, he brags about raising taxes on those earning more than $400,000 a year. That’s the investor class. “We changed a tax code that was too skewed towards the wealthiest Americans,” he said at the DreamWorks movie studio in Glendale, California.
Higher taxes and increased spending are hardy perennials on Obama’s wish list. Under duress in 2011, he agreed to the Budget Control Act that established tight spending caps. Now he’s endorsed a Democratic budget for 2014 that exceeds the caps by $91 billion and would boost taxes by $1 trillion over the next 10 years.
At the moment, Obama’s biggest bugaboo is the sequester, which mandates across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending, $109 billion in the 2014 budget alone. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has proposed “flexibility” to allow Obama to choose what programs are cut and by how much. The president rejected the idea. He wants to replace at least some of the cuts with tax hikes, not other cuts.
So, too, with tax reform, which to most people means eliminating loopholes and preferences, broadening the tax base, and reducing rates. Obama has a different vision. He would wipe out tax breaks, then spend a sizable chunk of the proceeds on infrastructure. Republicans would never accept this, as the president must know.
He’s also endorsed lowering the corporate tax rate from its current 35 percent. But this turns out to be merely a talking point. He’s invested no political capital in persuading Congress to trim corporate taxes. Rather, he’s eager to tax overseas profits by American companies who’ve already been taxed by foreign countries.
On domestic policy, it’s true that Obama once was leery of same-sex marriage. But did anyone think he really opposed it? Everyone in the political community knew better. Obama was posturing for political purposes in the 2008 presidential campaign. The same was true with his opposition to an individual mandate to buy health insurance. He reversed that upon taking up the health care issue in 2009.
What about Obamacare, which crashed on launching? All the delays and fixes are procedural. There’s no evidence Obama is rethinking the convoluted structure and substance of the health plan itself.
On foreign policy, there are two threads in Obama’s thinking, both pursued in spite of their cost. One is his willingness to toss American allies overboard to cultivate adversaries. To “reset” relations with Russia, he reneged on a plan to put missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. The wooing of Russia failed. And relations worsened with all three countries.
Since Obama became president, America has strayed from its historic role as protector of Asian nations against Chinese expansionism and bullying. They were relieved when Obama announced a “pivot to Asia” in 2012, only the shift never occurred. This year he canceled a trip to a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, further worrying Asian allies.
But last week he bucked China, thrusting the United States into a dispute over its claim to an “air defense identification zone” in the East China Sea. Two unarmed B-52s flew over the zone without notifying the Chinese, demonstrating the United States won’t accept the Chinese claim. It’s unclear if this represents a change in policy in Asia or a onetime rebuke.
Far more significant was the interim deal announced last week on Iran’s nuclear program, the culmination of years of Obama’s deference to Iranian leaders. We now know why he balked at aiding Syrian rebels and offering support to antiregime protesters in Iran: He was seeking full-blown negotiations to curb Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. Obama brushed aside resistance to the one-sided deal—it favors Iran—by America’s two strongest allies in the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
In his pursuit of Iran, one sees Obama’s stubbornness in action. The fact that Iranians were responsible for American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t dissuade him. Nor did Iran’s lies in denying the breadth of its nuclear program or its goal of building nuclear weapons. Nor did its unreliability as a negotiating partner.
Obama scoffs at the notion he’s “an ideological guy.” Only someone who thinks the more spent on food stamps, the better the economy could believe that.
Fred Barnes is an executive editor at The Weekly Standard.