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So Then, Let’s Eliminate Wasteful Spending

Jim Merriner 29 January 2009 No Comment

We should not overlook the possibility that President Obama means what he says. Twice now on major occasions he has declared that he will eliminate wasteful government spending.

Erase it. Zero it out. Exterminate it.

Right, Mr. President. Keep us posted on how that’s going.

In a line from his inaugural address that failed to set any of the commentariat hounds to baying, Obama said, “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works . . . Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.”

A Democratic president is promising to abolish government programs. This is a Nixon-goes-to-China moment, but it seems to have excited almost no punditry. Perhaps we all assume that it’s just rhetoric, that he doesn’t mean it.

But as Obama said in another part of the speech, memories are short.

When he accepted his party’s presidential nomination last August, Obama said:

“I will also go through the federal budget line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less, because we cannot meet 21st-century challenges with a 20th-century bureaucracy.”

Obama’s detractors liked to make fun of the fake Greek columns with which he decorated his convention speech platform in Denver . In terms of manifestations of vainglory, though, surely a belief that “I” will single-handedly tame the federal budget would serve as a leading indicator.

Notice that there is no Congress in Obama’s world. Among some other things in that August list of what “I,”

Obama, will do:

*stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas
*start giving them to companies that create jobs here
*eliminate capital-gains taxes for small and start-up businesses
*cut taxes for 95 percent of all working families.

Every quadrennial January, this country indulges a mass delusion that the president writes policy. Bill and Hillary chased this wild goose so avidly in 1993 that they not only failed to get Congress to pass national health care, they caused their own party to lose Congress in 1994.

And now Obama is going to end wastrel programs, rewrite the tax code, and then maybe break for lunch.

Probably, I am taking ceremonial speechifying too literally. Nominating conventions and presidential inaugurations are not seminars in the mechanics of governing. Politicians make extravagant claims all the time. Theirpurpose is to inspire, not to instruct.

For instance, Daddy Bush famously said in 1988, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” We cynics believed at the time that he was just mouthing a line written for him by Peggy Noonan, and we cynics were proved right.

But what if Obama is not cynical? He keeps insisting that he isn’t and we shouldn’t be, either.

A new president of the pro-government party—at the historical moment when the nation’s total number of government jobs exceeds the number of manufacturing jobs—will anger his party, offend interest groups, and alienate constituencies by “ending” entire “programs.”

That would be change we could believe in.

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