Unfortunately, much of the media have accepted the Obama narrative that it's only Republican rigidity that frustrates negotiations and leads to deadlock. This means, of course, that there's even less incentive for Obama and congressional Democrats to engage in genuine bargaining.So, who wrote that? Ed Morrissey? Mitch Berg? Rush Limbaugh? None of those, of course. Your mystery author is Robert Samuelson, who has had a prime media seat at Newsweek and the Washington Post since the days of Jimmy Carter. Samuelson is the son of Paul Samuelson, who won the first Nobel Prize in Economics.
The result is that we're not getting the debate we deserve and that budget choices are being made mainly by default. Just as important, the periodic, ugly confrontations over budget policy -- the paralysis and bitterness they involve -- corrode confidence and weaken the economy. A weak economy creates few new jobs, and the lack of jobs is the nation's No. 1 social problem. Obama's abdication of responsibility may be in his political self-interest, but it is profoundly hostile to the national interest.
If you think Samuelson is late to the party, you'd be wrong. Here he is in February, 2008:
A favorite Obama line is that he will tell "the American people not just what they want to hear but what we need to know." Well, he hasn't so far. Consider the retiring baby boomers. A truth-telling Obama might say: "Spending for retirees -- mainly Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- is already nearly half the federal budget. Unless we curb these rising costs, we will crush our children with higher taxes. Reflecting longer life expectancies, we should gradually raise the eligibility ages for these programs and trim benefits for wealthier retirees. Both Democrats and Republicans are to blame for inaction. Waiting longer will only worsen the problem."
Instead, Obama pledges not to raise the retirement age and to "protect Social Security benefits for current and future beneficiaries." This isn't "change"; it's sanctification of the status quo. He would also exempt all retirees making less than $50,000 annually from income tax. By his math, that would provide average tax relief of $1,400 to 7 million retirees -- shifting more of the tax burden onto younger workers. Obama's main proposal for Social Security is to raise the payroll tax beyond the present $102,000 ceiling.
Political candidates routinely indulge in exaggeration, pandering, inconsistency and self-serving obscuration. Clinton and McCain do. The reason for holding Obama to a higher standard is that it's his standard and also his campaign's central theme. He has run on the vague promise of "change," but on issue after issue -- immigration, the economy, global warming -- he has offered boilerplate policies that evade the underlying causes of the stalemates. These issues remain contentious because they involve real conflicts or differences of opinion.
The contrast between his broad rhetoric and his narrow agenda is stark, and yet the media -- preoccupied with the political "horse race" -- have treated his invocation of "change" as a serious idea rather than a shallow campaign slogan. He seems to have hypnotized much of the media and the public with his eloquence and the symbolism of his life story. The result is a mass delusion that Obama is forthrightly engaging the nation's major problems when, so far, he isn't.
Five years on, Obama's no more forthright in engaging problems than he was in 2008. The one thing that Samuelson had wrong in 2008 is this -- there's no hypnosis involved, at least not any more. What we are dealing with is willful delusion.
I blame George W. Bush.