Thursday, July 28, 2011

How Obama Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Debt Bomb

I think most people at this point know that Barack Obama was steadfastly against an increase in the nation’s debt limit before he was steadfastly for it. Those who aren't aware need to listen to more conservative talk radio, because I've heard on nearly every show, with good reason. It's an important episode in understanding the character of our President and our nation's political class. And amid the political spin, the details of what he said then and how he rationalizes it now have been glossed over, but they bear remembering.

Let's start with his reversal of opinion from earlier this year. In April, with the debt limit issue for 2011 just emerging, Obama sat down with Bill Clinton's media director ABC News journalist George Stephanopoulos to clear the air:

George Stephanopoulos: You’ve got to extend the debt limit by May. And it seems like you made up the job-- your job is a lot tougher because of your vote in the Senate against extending the debt limit … When did you realize that vote was a mistake?

President Obama: I think that it’s important to understand the vantage point of a Senator versus the vantage point of a…President. When you’re a Senator, traditionally what’s happened is this is always a lousy vote. Nobody likes to be tagged as having increased the debt limit for the United States by a trillion dollars… As President, you start realizing, "You know what? We-- we can’t play around with this stuff. This is the full faith in credit of the United States." And so that was just a example of a new Senator, you know, making what is a political vote as opposed to doing what was important for the country. And I’m the first one to acknowledge it.

Stephanopoulos did his best with that soft toss question and lack of any follow-up. But Obama still stumbles into the inconvenient truth. His vote as a "new" Senator (a whopping five years ago, a veritable eon from the mature, wise President of today), was essentially horse manure.

He was just playing politics. He didn't feel the need to use his vote to express his true beliefs or do what was best for the country or constituents. Instead he could play games with it. And all because he was not in the Presidency, where you have to take things seriously. He was in that rinky dink, petty, unimportant institution, the United States Senate. I guess the "new" Senator missed orientation on the day they mentioned this institution is supposed to be "the world's greatest deliberative body". Somehow Obama got it into his head that it was the world's lamest diminutive body. They sound really similar, you can see where a naive, young, new Senator might make that mistake.

Maybe the citizens of Illinois are different than me, but I consider the office of US Senator to be an important one. And when I vote for a candidate running for US Senate, I assume they will take their votes seriously. They're not going to ignore "what is important for the country" as Obama says, in favor of some other goal. Maybe I'm the naive one here.

It would be helpful if Obama would go back to his voting record in the US Senate and let us know exactly which votes he really meant and which he was doing only for political purposes. Maybe George Stephonopoulos will ask him about this, next time.

What's interesting about Stephanopoulos's original question, and Obama's answer, is that the focus is merely on Obama's vote. What they studiously ignore is what Obama said about this issue before he voted. His rhetoric was rather flowery and strident, believe it or not, and needs to be repeated.

The following is from the Congressional Record, on March 16, 2006 (page S2237). Senator Barack Obama of Illinois takes to the well of the US Senate to speak to the nation. That would be self-described "new" Senator Barack Obama, a mere two years from being elected. (Yet only 11 months from announcing he was running for President -- how quickly experience and wisdom accrue!). Here are excerpts of what he said about raising the debt ceiling. And remember, according to Barack Obama himself, this is all horse manure. He didn't really mean any of it:

Mr. President, I rise today to talk about America’s debt problem.

The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies.

Now that Obama says he didn't mean this, does George W. Bush get an apology?

Over the past 5 years, our federal debt has increased by $3.5 trillion to $8.6 trillion. That is ‘‘trillion’’ with a ‘‘T.’’ That is money that we have borrowed from the Social Security trust fund, borrowed from China and Japan, borrowed from American taxpayers. And over the next 5 years, between now and 2011, the President’s budget will increase the debt by almost another $3.5 trillion.
Numbers that large are sometimes hard to understand. Some people may wonder why they matter ...

You've got to love the fact that Obama has allegedly gained oceans of wisdom in five years, but he's retained the ability to insultingly talk down to his audience.

Every dollar we pay in interest is a dollar that is not going to investment in America’s priorities. Instead, interest payments are a significant tax on all Americans—a debt tax that Washington doesn’t want to talk about. If Washington were serious about honest tax relief in this country, we would see an effort to reduce our national debt by returning to responsible fiscal policies. But we are not doing that.

What he was saying in 2006 was true. And most voters would agree with it. Truth and agreement with voters' beliefs, an effective campaign strategy. You can see why Barack Obama was able to convince a majority of Americans to vote for him in 2008. And you can see why Barack Obama would use his vote and rhetoric for political purposes, rather than doing what he really believed was best for the country.

Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘‘the buck stops here.’’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grand children. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.

The debt problem has increased by trillions since he said these words. That is trillions with a "T". But now we're supposed to take his word that this represents successful leadership and not passing the burden to future generations, and America does not deserve any better than this.

To be fair, new Senator Obama was not alone in playing games with his debt ceiling vote in 2006. According to the roll call, every single Democrat Senator voted against it, including those flinty guardians of the public treasury Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy. Others joining this temporary small government appreciation society were Joe Biden, Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Hillary Clinton, and Mark Dayton.

On the other side, nearly every Republican in the Senate voted to increase the debt ceiling in 2006, including strident budget hawks of 2011 like Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, and Rick Santorum.

Of note are the three Republican Senators in 2006 who voted against party interest and against the debt ceiling increase, Tom Coburn, John Ensign, and Conrad Burns. And for their good deeds, two of these three were run out of the Senate (Ensign for sexual impropriety and Burns losing election in November 2006). So from the class of 2006, only one man of honor remains in the Senate, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Back to Obama, one of the dishonorable dozens, he now holds the most powerful office in the country. In 2012, the country gets a chance to pass judgement on his record. His broken pledge on the debt ceiling, and his lack of integrity on this issue, should be major considerations in this judgement. In my mind, this is a far worse broken promise than George Bush's ruinous "no new taxes" pledge. (Bush never lost his integrity over this, he just proved to be weak.) Here's hoping Obama's GOP opponent doesn't let the nation forget it.