The magnitude 5.9 earthquake that reached Washington, D.C. from its epicenter in Mineral, Virginia, caused a considerable shake-up in the nation’s capitol. Bureaucrats in federal buildings fled to the streets, affording the nation a degree of unexpected regulatory relief for a few hours. It indeed takes an earthquake to shake things up in Washington and, if America can appreciate the metaphor given us by Heaven, it can achieve a more profound shake-up at the voting booth in November of 2012.
The President’s original debt deal miscalculation, where he chose not to take a leadership role and define a precise plan to balance the budget, has led to a precipitous drop in his popularity. Americans very much dislike Presidents who appear weak and afraid to lead. A President will either lead decisively in a crisis or he will be voted out of office; that is a truism of American politics. Obama is a Sunshine Patriot. Sunshine patriots have never been popular here, not since Thomas Paine condemned them with these words in America’s first major crisis: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
There is something dreadfully disingenuous about a President who fails to lead in a crisis. We elect Presidents to lead in crises. They campaign professing that innate ability. When the crisis comes and they recoil from leadership, they incur the wrath of the public. No one, Democrat, Republican, or Independent, can accept a President who refuses to take a stand when an issue reaches the crisis point.
President’s legacies in history are largely written about their response to crises. We soon forget how a President ruled during times of calm, but we often remember the actions of Presidents in the midst of a crisis. The economic crisis America faces, which is in truth the greatest threat to its existence, is a test Obama failed. Indeed, he did not even try to address it. That failure is an abysmal one that will mark his place in history.
While the spending spree went on with the consequences left for future generations, President Obama could hold onto power. What neither he nor anyone in Washington (with the exception of Ron Paul) anticipated was that the consequences of profligate spending would come home to roost so soon. Obama now faces the aftershocks of extravagant spending that he thought would be left for his successors in office, and he has no solutions for the American people.
Obama increasingly appears entirely out of touch with the typical American. He has done nothing to bring down anti-competitive regulatory barriers to market entry and competition, nothing to permit Americans to retain the fruits of their labors so that they can emerge from the recession, nothing to reduce unemployment by a market expansion that would create self-sustaining employment, and nothing to reduce the size and scope of the federal government.
He keeps demanding an increase in taxes on the wealthy, despite the fact that such an increase will provide only a nominal rise in federal revenues, will not reduce the national debt, and will not offset by any material degree the enormous projected increases in federal spending. He still seems to think that he can pull one over on the American people—that his vacuous campaign of hope from 2008 will appeal to those whose hopes he has not fulfilled despite four long years in office.
Obama faces an extreme political dilemma. On the one hand, to be perceived as a leader he must move and move quickly to define a precise agenda to achieve a balanced budget in the face of an economic crisis that will destroy the nation. On the other, if he demands the cuts in programs and entitlements needed to save the nation, he will alienate his core constituency, the liberal wing of the Democratic party. Consequently, he favors anemic cost reduction measures and clings desperately to yet more outrageous spending plans to “stimulate” the economy (that despite the fact that the trillions he has already spent have not reduced the unemployment rate or put an end to the recession).
Obama came into office on a promise to end dysfunctional government by achieving compromise. When the House and Senate were dominated by Democrats, he pushed through a series of big spending measures, with the blessing of many Old Guard Republicans, but in a divided government he appears incapable of leadership. Until recently, he kept telling the American people that his big spending measures would eventually produce beneficial results, but the results produced have been a debt of $14.5 trillion, a reduction in the nation’s triple A credit rating, and a worsening of an already weak economy. He now has the unenviable position of having to run for re-election on that abysmal record.
For a long time, many Americans, including many independent voters, gave Obama the benefit of the doubt (with his popularity above 50 percent). But now, having witnessed his abdication of leadership in the debt deal crisis; having come to grips with the fact that his big spending policies have pushed the nation to the brink of economic collapse; and having realized that his rhetoric rings hollow in light of a failed track record, those Americans have become disillusioned. The prognosis is not good for the Obama Administration. The factors that affect votes the most, unemployment and the relative degree of optimism concerning the future, are worsening and will likely be much worse by the time of the election.
Obama now faces the makings of a perfect political storm. The earthquake that shook Washington is but a prophetic warning that this government will be shaken again and more profoundly by the electorate until those responsible for its corruption, unlimited growth, and destruction of individual sovereignty are put out on the streets, replaced by those who will be elected with a stern admonition that they dramatically reduce the size and scope of the government.
Obama increasingly looks like a man on the defensive. At public gatherings he increasingly faces hostile crowds and uncomfortable questions. Rather than define a plan to save the nation from economic ruin and fight for it, he repeatedly fails to provide that plan, continues to mouth platitudes about preserving the current systems for Social Security and Medicare that are not financially sustainable, and promises answers to important questions not today but in future.
In the end, chances are, he will hobble together a plan. He will have to in order to stem the loss of voters. But when he does make that move, it will be too little too late. It will not go as far as is necessary to save the nation from economic ruin, and it will go beyond what his core constituency, the liberal wing of the Democratic party, finds acceptable. The move will appear indecisive in the midst of our worsening economic crisis and will lead even more voters to reject him in the November 2012 elections.