2008 was "Change"; will 2012 be "Change it Back"? — The Morning Report, 7/12/11

In the News

1.  James Pethokoukis on what will, I’m quite sure, be the central Republican argument in the 2012 election battle:

The Republican charge is a body shot aimed right at the belly of President Barack Obama’s re-election effort: He made it worse.

No, not that White House efforts at boosting the American economy and creating jobs and “winning the future” were merely inefficient or wasteful, which they certainly were. Even Obama finally seems to understand that. “Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected,” he joked lamely at a meeting of his jobs council.

Rather, that the product of all the administration’s stimulating and regulating is an economy that’s in significantly worse competitive and productive shape than when Obama took the oath in January 2009. He was dealt a bad hand, to be sure – and then proceeded to play it badly. At least, that is what Republicans have been saying. “He didn’t cause the recession as we know,” presidential candidate Mitt Romney said in New Hampshire yesterday. “He didn’t make it better, he made things worse.”

It’s a devastating piece from Pethokoukis, who is not exactly an Obama-hater.  He assesses the results of the President’s massive stimulus and other efforts:

Indeed, the results are horrifying. The two-year-old recovery’s terrible tale of the tape: A 9.1 percent unemployment rate that’s probably closer to 16 percent counting the discouraged and underemployed, the worst income growth and weakest GDP growth of any upturn since World War II, a still-weakening housing market. Oh, and a trillion bucks down the tube. Oh, and two-and-a-half years … and counting … wasted during which time the skills of unemployed workers continue to erode and the careers of younger Americans suffer long-term income damage. Losing the future.

Next, add in healthcare reform that Medicare’s chief actuary says will not slow the overall growth of healthcare spending. (Even its Obama administration godfather, Peter Orszag, warns that “more drastic measures may ultimately be needed.”) And toss in a financial reform plan that the outspoken and independent president of the Kansas City Fed says he “can’t imagine” working. “I don’t have faith in it all.” Indeed, markets continue to treat the biggest banks as if they are still too big to fail.

But wait there’s more. Obama created a debt commission that produced a reasonable though imperfect plan to deal with America’s long-term fiscal woes. But he stiffed it and then failed to supply a plan of his own, sowing the seeds for an impending debt ceiling crisis and making an eventual fiscal fix that much harder.

The rallying cry of 2008 was “Change.”  Will the cry of 2012 be “Change it Back”?  Thus Marco Rubio chimes in: “Every aspect of life in America today is worse than it was when [President Obama] took over. Unemployment higher. Interest rates. The only thing that has gone down in America over the last two years is the value of your home.”  Ouch.

2.  J. E. Dyer writes in a rather quiet and deliberate voice, but she’s extraordinarily well-informed and thoughtful.  If you’re a conservative and a Christian, you should check out her column, which appears at the Evangelical Portal on Mondays.  Here are the final two paragraphs from her latest, reflecting on Operation Fast and Furious as a symptom of our government’s tendency to approach problems through collective, experimental social engineering that overlooks the fundamental values of the individual:

In the gunwalking incident, our government appointed itself to operate in an experimental manner without regard for the consequences to human beings. But it did this in part because we are a society that demonstrably tolerates government operating on that premise. We relate to each other in increasingly abstract, categorical terms—as quantities in a system, filtered by income level, race, sex, political affiliation; by the status of victim or oppressor; by ideological significance versus ideological insignificance—and we see it as increasingly normal for our government to relate to us in those terms as well.

This can justly be considered a form of spiritual sickness. But imagining that there is a collective, systematic “cure” for it would amount to committing the very error we decry. Government policies are the opposite of a remedy in this case. Indeed, the great adventure of our age may well be finding the way to de-privilege the whole premise of such solutions, which have come to fill our philosophical horizon. Policy criteria like statistics and tactical utility, however well we think we can assess them, have not turned out to be a basis for wisdom, hope, or virtue in human affairs. They encourage us instead to ignore the moral value of the individual, and treat each other as means to an end.

Read the whole thing.  Better yet, subscribe to her column via RSS or email.

3.  Our deteriorating relationship with Pakistan is starting to have consequences.

In the Pews

1.  Rod Dreher’s “Second Thoughts on Same-Sex Marriage“:

Unlike Pat Robertson, I don’t worry that same-sex marriages will bring down the judgment of Sodom on America. What concerns me is that a concept of marriage that reflects the objective moral order has now been irreversibly displaced, and that in time, there will be dramatic consequences from this violence. What looks like a victory for liberty and equality will, I fear, prove to have been the point beyond which the atomization and dissolution of the family could no longer be arrested. It has happened before.

Could it be that we traditionalists don’t know what to say to the culture on this issue because it is no longer capable of hearing anything we might say? How can we in the church speak persuasively to the broader culture when we struggle to offer a coherent and compelling moral framework to our own young people?

2.   A very interesting review of a very interesting book: Tim Challies on Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling.

3.  Is the cult of self-esteem ruining our kids?  Collin Hansen on the value of failure.  Here’s the opening:

Your kids will fail. This is both inevitable and also necessary. Apparently not many parents today want to hear this uncomfortable fact. And they certainly don’t want to implement it in how they discipline their children. Writing the cover story for The Atlantic’s July/August issue, therapist Lori Gottlieb alerts us that the cult of self-esteem is ruining our kids. Convinced they are the center of the universe and capable of anything, our children have become insufferable narcissists. Then, when these kids grow up and fail, as they must, they head for the nearest therapist, worried their lives have gone horribly wrong.

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  • Kubrick’s Rube

    You’re absolutely right about the central Republican argument of the 2012 election. And as the American people have every right to be epically frustrated by the economy- even as I think their blame will be misdirected- I’m feeling more and more convinced that Romney will be President come 2013.

    That said, the Pethokoukis article is staggeringly misleading on almost every point. From both the size and impact of the stimulus, to comparing the economy now to the beginning of 2009 instead of to the low point that October, to conflating health insurance with health care, to complaining about inefficient financial regulations when he opposes stricter ones, to asserting the President offered no alternative to the debt commission (has he forgotten how upset his BFF Paul Ryan got when the President laid out his plan on live TV?), to, most egregiously, pretending that this has anything at all to do with a debt ceiling vote that is causing more market uncertainty than any regulation or expiring tax cut ever could. Further, I just read a post- from just this Monday- where Pethokoukis claimed Obama won’t cut spending in the debt negotiations, when it was only after Obama agreed to massive cuts that Cantor broke off the talks without offering concessions of his own.

    I’ve got no problem with him interpreting data differently than the economists I trust do, or believing Obama’s policies are woefully misguided, or even claiming it’s Obama’s fault that Congress hasn’t passed a jobs bill- hey, that’s politics- but the spin in this piece (and others of his I’ve seen) goes way beyond that.

  • fuster

    The Republicans have a wonderful charge to level….. he made it worse!……. and that they can’t prove the point only makes it better.

    they don’t have to prove it merely note that the economy that they, in the main, helped to devastate didn’t, despite their great effort to obstruct Obama, didn’t markedly and swiftly stop being undone under Obama’s administration.

    I’m sure that the American voters aren’t going to remember that when the last Democratic admin left and Bush took office we had a budget surplus and the Congressional Budget Office was projecting it to grow for a decade or more.

    • A few points.

      First, people aren’t going to buy the Republicans as obstructionists. They gave both chambers of Congress to Dems along with the Executive. Keep in mind that most people thought Republicans still ran Congress after the 2006 elections, a fact which certainly aided Obama in 2008.

      Second, the full analysis necessary to conclusively “prove” Obama made it worse won’t be available for years, if not decades. For political purposes, it is sufficient to demonstrate that the administration made very concrete promises with respect to their policies that did not materialize.

      Third, if the executive were as powerful as Obama’s own rhetoric implied (not to mention the anti-Bush rhetoric of his supporters), a marked and swift undoing should be expected of a competent administration. If economic forces are a bit more fluid (and, of course, the are), there was insufficient need for immediate and monumental influxes of cash.

      Four, Obama isn’t running against Bush. He’ll be running against Pawlenty or Romney (I still think the former is the more likely outcome, but the point remains). One of the benefits of the “made it worse” meme is that, if you concede Bush policies actively hindered our economy, by any standard you would apply, Obama was worse.

      • fuster

        kevin, whether people are going to buy it or not, they indeed gave both houses to the Dems and the rump Repubs were and still are obstructing.
        check into the record of confirmations of Obamas appointees.

  • I wonder if pulling back on Obamacare isn’t the President’s trump card, here. It isn’t a plan his supporters are particularly thrilled about anyway (and they are IRATE about his willingness to put Medicare and SS on the table). It is a huge concession, which, paired with cuts in other areas, would substantially improve deficit projections, and it would buy him the tax hikes he wants, which could then be used to pay for more meaningful reform.

    If he loses the election, and Republicans take both chambers, Obamacare’s gone anyway. It’s smart politics, allowing him to get the big deal he wants, while giving him the edge in negotiations until election season.

    Perhaps this is why Republicans haven’t made much noise about it in the negotiations process.