Entry from March 6, 2009

Readers with long memories — long as these things go in the world of Blog and Twitter — will remember my posts of February 12th and February 17th in which I remarked on the curious emphasis in the rhetoric of President Obama on the catastrophic economic situation he purported to see himself confronted with. Where, I thought, was the Rooseveltian, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”spirit? All of a sudden it appeared that we had everything to fear but fear itself. And then there was the curious mismatch between the rhetorical gravity accorded the economic outlook and the triviality of so much of the allegedly Keynesian remedy — including local pork barrel projects like the preservation of the half-demolished old Tiger Stadium in Detroit — being brought forward to deal with it.

And then, as you may recall, I noticed, on February 25th that the radicalism as well as the cost of so many of the President’s budget proposals, like the vast new increase in federally-financed health care, was justified on the paradoxical but highly dubious ground that it was costing us more to do nothing than it would to spend trillions of dollars in new money. “You can’t afford not to buy it,” the smiling salesman assured us. Did people actually believe this? Well, it seemed that either they did or else they were afraid to admit to being so stupid as not to “get” the dazzling brilliance of the scheme being put forward by a president universally acknowledged to be a brain-box of the first water. “I get it,” he assured us, not for the first time. Were we prepared to say the same? Surely we weren’t devotees of those old-fashioned accounting schemes that got us into this mess in the first place, were we?

I felt as if the American people had been approached by a new Bernie Madoff, only without the humility, and had swallowed his pitch hook, line and sinker. But perhaps that was only because the vast echo-chamber of the media was echoingly empty of those willing to doubt the bringer of hope and change, or even to entertain the possibility that “change” might be for the worse. Now at last, one or two timorous voices are being heard in protest. Even David Brooks of The New York Times gave voice to some doubts as to whether or not Mr Hope-and-Change could still be entitled to parade his dubious wares under the banner of “moderation” — though in today’s column he reports, not unsympathetically, on the efforts of the administration to bring him to heel.

But it has taken Charles Krauthammer in today’s Washington Post to adumbrate “the logic of Obama’s address to Congress” in these words:

“Our economy did not fall into decline overnight,” he averred. Indeed, it all began before the housing crisis. What did we do wrong? We are paying for past sins in three principal areas: energy, health care and education — importing too much oil and not finding new sources of energy (as in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf?), not reforming health care, and tolerating too many bad schools. The “day of reckoning” has arrived. And because “it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament,” Obama has come to redeem us with his far-seeing program of universal, heavily nationalized health care; a cap-and-trade tax on energy; and a major federalization of education with universal access to college as the goal.

To all this Mr Krauthammer says: “Amazing. As an explanation of our current economic difficulties, this is total fantasy. As a cure for rapidly growing joblessness, a massive destruction of wealth, a deepening worldwide recession, this is perhaps the greatest non sequitur ever foisted upon the American people.”

Amen, brother. Here at last the media has thrown up someone who isn’t afraid to admit that he doesn’t “get it.” For that is the pre-condition of “getting” something else, namely the strategy which lies behind such an obviously bogus argument. This can be summed up, he says, in the words of Rahm Emanuel: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. . . This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.” Here, at last, we come to the real reason for the president’s talking down the economy

The markets’ recent precipitous decline is a reaction not just to the absence of any plausible bank rescue plan, but also to the suspicion that Obama sees the continuing financial crisis as usefully creating the psychological conditions — the sense of crisis bordering on fear-itself panic — for enacting his “Big Bang” agenda to federalize and/or socialize health care, education and energy, the commanding heights of post-industrial society. Clever politics, but intellectually dishonest to the core. Health, education and energy — worthy and weighty as they may be — are not the cause of our financial collapse. And they are not the cure. The fraudulent claim that they are both cause and cure is the rhetorical device by which an ambitious president intends to enact the most radical agenda of social transformation seen in our lifetime.

I wonder if, so encouraged, others in the media will now at last step forward to say that they “get it”?

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