Saturday, February 7, 2009

Squandering America's Trust

Charles Krauthammer at The Washington Post wields his journalistic scalpel to dissect some of the pretensions of the new administration. Here's his warmup:

"A failure to act, and act now, will turn crisis into a catastrophe." -- President Obama, Feb. 4.

Catastrophe, mind you. So much for the president who in his inaugural address two weeks earlier declared "we have chosen hope over fear." Until, that is, you need fear to pass a bill.

And so much for the promise to banish the money changers and influence peddlers from the temple. An ostentatious executive order banning lobbyists was immediately followed by the nomination of at least a dozen current or former lobbyists to high position. Followed by a Treasury secretary who allegedly couldn't understand the payroll tax provisions in his 1040. Followed by Tom Daschle, who had to fall on his sword according to the new Washington rule that no Cabinet can have more than one tax delinquent.

Krauthammer deftly filets Obama's appointment of Tom Daschle who "represented everything Obama said he'd come to Washington to upend," and the stimulus package which is in large part a hog trough for special interests:

It's not just pages and pages of special-interest tax breaks, giveaways and protections, one of which would set off a ruinous Smoot-Hawley trade war. It's not just the waste, such as the $88.6 million for new construction for Milwaukee Public Schools, which, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, have shrinking enrollment, 15 vacant schools and, quite logically, no plans for new construction.

It's the essential fraud of rushing through a bill in which the normal rules (committee hearings, finding revenue to pay for the programs) are suspended on the grounds that a national emergency requires an immediate job-creating stimulus -- and then throwing into it hundreds of billions that have nothing to do with stimulus, that Congress's own budget office says won't be spent until 2011 and beyond, and that are little more than the back-scratching, special-interest, lobby-driven parochialism that Obama came to Washington to abolish. He said.

President Obama can still recapture the credibility he has forfeited in these last two weeks, but he's going to have to want to do it. Right now he looks just like any other politician - what he does has little relationship to what he says. Krauthammer again:

After Obama's miraculous 2008 presidential campaign, it was clear that at some point the magical mystery tour would have to end. The nation would rub its eyes and begin to emerge from its reverie. The hallucinatory Obama would give way to the mere mortal. The great ethical transformations promised would be seen as a fairy tale that all presidents tell -- and that this president told better than anyone.

I thought the awakening would take six months. It took two and a half weeks.

Krauthammer's trenchant analysis notwithstanding, most people in the country still want President Obama to succeed. They want to believe him when he promises a new kind of politics and transparency in the White House. He can still be what many hoped he would be, but not this way. He has squandered a lot of credibility and good will in the last two weeks and can't afford to fritter away much more.


Books for Black History Month

February is Black History Month and National Review Online has asked a number of distinguished thinkers, both black and white, to share their thoughts on their choice for the one book on the black experience in America that everyone should read.

My vote, had they asked for it, would have gone to Roots by Alex Haley for first place, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin for runner-up and W.E.B. DuBois' Souls of Black Folk would have received honorable mention. To my surprise, neither Roots nor Souls were nominated by the NRO reviewers, but several other worthy books were, and you can see what they were at the link.