It’s hard to say who was left looking more foolish after March 1. Was it the politicians who for the whole month of February, with stupefying crescendo, encouraged the populace to fall for the bluff that civilization might come to an end if Congress didn’t launch a new round of tax hikes? Or was it the media voices who, walking in lockstep, amplified their scary warnings?
Sadly, there is no shame. “This is not going to be an apocalypse,” said President Barack Obama on the morning of the day everything was supposed to fall apart, “as some people have said.” Well, indeed. The prophet-of-doom-in-chief for the previous six weeks had been the president himself, skittering around the country as if in the last days of a campaign. (See “Cut and dried” in this issue.)
And with stupefying crescendo, the mainstream media had spent many weeks scaring the American public out of its wits by echoing the president’s warnings of how the so-called sequestration act would inflict devastation on them.
To be sure, a few of those media voices hedged their bets as February melted calmly into March. The Associated Press reported, the day before the sequester was to take effect, that most Americans were responding with “a collective yawn.” Maybe they weren’t quite as dumb, after all, as the elitists had supposed. Maybe Washington, D.C., in general, and President Barack Obama in particular, had hollered “Wolf!” just once too often.
Whether it was a mere 2.5 percent (the now-famous $85 billion) that needed to be trimmed from the federal budget, or something two or three times that amount, taxpayers knew that they could cut such amounts from their family budgets without having the roof caving in. They may not have understood all the budgetary details—but they recognized the Obama bluff for what it was.
Yet all that may not be the main point. However all this turns out, America has lost something even more important than fiscal competence. Along with his obvious inability to add and subtract the zillions of dollars that flow into and out of the federal government, President Obama has much more disastrously undermined basic believability whenever he wants in the future to tell his fellow citizens the simple truth—on just about any issue.
Americans should know by now that their president has no interest in producing a workable budget. A budget is meant to be orderly. What he really wants instead, and continually fosters, is a constant state of turmoil and fiscal confusion. As David Horowitz points out in “Rules for Revolution,” an insightful booklet: “The cause—whether inner city blacks, or women, [or whatever], is never the real cause, but only an occasion to advance the real cause which is the accumulation of power to make the revolution.”
After all, it was President Obama himself who personally authored the proposal to establish a “sequester” that would impose clumsy but real cuts on federal spending. “OK,” said Congress. “It’s not a pretty idea—especially since you haven’t proposed anything like a budget of your own. But we’ll go along if it moves us to the next square.” To which the president responded: “How could you possibly suggest such a proposal has any place in serious government?”
For another example, take a look at Obamacare. Right now, it’s not so much a question of what’s workable and what’s not. What we have instead is a context in which nobody—and especially managers of smaller companies—is able to figure out even a few basic details about what’s going on.
Obama is a consummate excuse-maker. Nothing, in his mind, is ever his fault. But that’s not because he wanders aimlessly through an empty strategy. His very strategy is to bewilder everybody. And then he steps in with a few more executive orders and tightens the bureaucratic noose.
Governing by sowing confusion, and then waiting until people forget what you said, is dangerous for everybody concerned.