By Jeffrey T. Kuhner
Saturday, August 15, 2009
President Obama is on the way to joining an exclusive club. It is the club of failed one-term presidents.
During the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama sold himself as a pragmatic moderate. In fact, he is the very opposite. He is an internationalist socialist whose policies will lead to ruin at home and defeat abroad. They will also doom his re-election efforts. He is flirting with political disaster.
Despite his many flaws, former President Bill Clinton established the model for successful Democratic administrations. Mr. Clinton governed as a liberal centrist. He realized that veering too far to the left early in his presidency was detrimental: His support of Hillarycare and gays in the military resulted in the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress. Mr. Clinton changed course by embracing free trade, welfare reform and balanced budgets -- combining fiscal responsibility and social liberalism. This formula prevented the Republican Party from recapturing the White House in 1996.
Mr. Obama is the anti-Clinton. He is a leftist ideologue who has surrounded himself with radical and inept advisers. Mr. Clinton had political counselor Dick Morris and Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin. Mr. Obama has David Axelrod and Timothy F. Geithner.
As a result, Mr. Obama's presidency is starting to look like the worst in 100 years. His $787 billion fiscal stimulus has failed to restore economic recovery. Unemployment remains high. Growth is anemic.
His massive spending is projected to yield record budget deficits of $1.8 trillion this year and $1.3 trillion next year. Over the next decade, according to the Obama administration's own estimates, the debt will explode by more than $10 trillion. These soaring deficits threaten to cripple our long-term prosperity and economic security. No country has sustained this kind of massive borrowing and spending without becoming a second-class nation. America is going the way of Argentina.
Mr. Obama's government-run health care plan is too expensive: It will saddle taxpayers with more than $1 trillion in costs. If enacted, it will do what socialized medicine has always done: ration care, extend waiting lines to visit a doctor and deny lifesaving, costly treatment to those deemed the weakest and most unproductive members of society -- the elderly. It is why so many seniors rightly oppose Obamacare.
National health care will force Mr. Obama to break his tax pledge. His signature campaign promise was not to raise taxes on families making less than $250,000 a year. However, Mr. Obama has boxed himself in, vowing that any health-insurance overhaul must be paid for without adding to the deficit. Hence, his administration is exploring soak-the-rich schemes such as higher income and capital gains taxes and a "wealth surtax." The problem remains that even these policies can't generate nearly enough revenue to fund Mr. Obama's ambitious expansion of the welfare-entitlement state.
This leaves him with only one option -- raising taxes on the middle and working classes. Already, key administration officials are considering a 10-percent national sales tax, also known as a value-added tax (VAT). In other words, a European-style health care system inevitably leads to European-level taxation -- and, consequently, European-style high unemployment and low growth rates.
Mr. Obama's energy policies will also undermine the economy. If passed, his cap-and-trade initiative will impose huge indirect taxes on businesses. It will punish manufacturing, oil-producing and coal states. Its goal is to increase the costs of gas and electricity, thereby discouraging their use.
Consumers will be paying more not only at the pump but also on everything from food to heating and electric bills. Mr. Obama's green socialism threatens to erode our standard of living, trigger skyrocketing inflation and stunt job creation.
Yet, the biggest danger is in foreign policy. Mr. Obama is pouring another 21,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan. American forces are bogged down in a protracted guerilla campaign. The Taliban are resurgent. They have reclaimed their stronghold around the southern city of Kandahar. Insurgents are waging bold and deadly attacks even in the northern and western parts of the country -- formerly stable areas. The fighting is spreading, U.S. casualties are soaring, and public support for the war is ebbing.
The problem in Afghanistan is that terrorists are able to blend in with the native population. American soldiers find it increasingly difficult to distinguish civilians from combatants. The administration does not have a coherent counterinsurgency strategy. Hence, the Taliban are winning, and Washington is clueless on how to change the grim results on the ground.
Mr. Obama is frequently portrayed as the heir to Franklin D. Roosevelt. The more apt analogy, however, is Lyndon Baines Johnson. Just like Mr. Obama, President Johnson believed he could have guns and butter. He sought to implement the Great Society while escalating America's military involvement in Southeast Asia. Unable to choose, Mr. Johnson lost both: His domestic agenda and prosecution of the Vietnam War proved to be disastrous. His reckless ambition reduced his administration to political rubble, costing him any chance for re-election in 1968. This is why he (smartly) decided not to run again.
Social democracy and interventionist nation-building do not work. They destroyed the Johnson presidency and are on the verge of destroying Mr. Obama's as well.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute, a Washington-based think tank.