Obama needs to display better statesmanship

Over the last week President Barack Obama has demonstrated the ultraleft version of the one-two punch when confronted with problems: push back and punish.

In his speech last week, he seemed to arrive at two salient points. The first was that whippersnapper Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, who along with Sen. Rand Paul have been the only members of Congress to offer plans with meaningful deficit reduction, needed to march to the back of the room and be quiet.

Secondly, he made it abundantly clear he had no intention of engaging in meaningful spending cuts and if you did, you probably were some sort of rage-filled Neanderthal like, say, a conservative Texan.

The president and his teleprompters weren’t really giving a speech about economics anyway, but were trying to frame a debate to show his diminishing base that he was pushing back against the Republican agenda. At the same time, he was lashing out at the rich on behalf of his common-man supporters, like Michael Moore and George Clooney — who I’m certain shouted a hearty “Way to go!” from his villa on Lake Como in Italy.

Rhetorically and economically punishing success in America is about the last wheeze of this dilapidated economic policy.

It begins to feel a sort of Alice in Wonderland experience when the ultraleft brandishes the rhetorical jab about paying one’s fair share, aimed at a group paying 40 percent of the federal tax burden, yet controlling only 24 percent of the wealth, thereby enabling 48 percent of the population to effectively pay no federal income tax at all. That’s according to IRS data cited by The New York Times.

What is more baffling is that for 2010 taxes, this group may pay even more in total dollars as a result of the continuation of the Bush tax rates, encouraging increased investment by business owners and spending by the idle rich. For instance, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry probably paid people to polish the brightwork on the yacht he kept in tax-free Rhode Island.

However, as is often the case, the president’s rhetoric had unintended consequences, as the international credit rating agency of Standard & Poor’s issued a statement declaring the administration did not seem serious about deficit reduction and changed its guidance on the state of the U.S. economy from stable to negative. This is a big deal and, as some Democrats observed, it poured gasoline on the deficit reduction debate.

Running true to form, administration members responded as they often have when they feel themselves on the losing end of a fight. They charged out of their corner and started swinging wildly at the referee.

The Obama team quickly branded Standard & Poor’s announcement as “political” and hinted at sinister forces from Wall Street or Halliburton or maybe Dick Cheney.

What’s funny is that they were right that it was about politics. The president made an intensely partisan political speech and Standard & Poor’s evaluated that speech on the basis of its effect on economic policy. This was done because that agency understands that political process directly affects economic outcome.

This highlights a major problem for President Obama (and for America), which is his coming to grips with the idea that statements made by candidate Obama now have real consequences because, while he may be running for president, he also is the president. For that reason, speeches that seem like they’re lifted from Huey Long are going to make people in financial markets nervous.

This is especially true since the president now has a record (something he didn’t really have before) of implementing some of the eccentric ideas people mistakenly thought were campaign rhetoric when he was originally running.

This lesson is especially important for the president because he is so obsessively visible and talkative. Others of his cadre in the presidential basement like James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and even Jimmy Carter were not so ubiquitous in the public consciousness.

Winning elections makes people take you seriously, even if they don’t want to, which is why most presidents try to act like statesmen and let their staff fight like junkyard dogs.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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