It was only a matter of time before President Barack Obama turned into a deficit hawk. But it is a measure of the desperation sparked by Scott Brown's election to Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat that Obama hatched before the conclusion of the 2010 congressional elections and unveiled a spending freeze.
Obama is trying to reassure independent, middle-class voters — the kind who supported Brown — that he can be fiscally responsible. What voters make of this remains to be seen; almost all Republicans and significant numbers of Democrats want nothing to do with it, nor do they have any ideas of their own. But Obama's call to freeze some government spending is actually only a mini-freeze of discretionary spending.
Untouched will be the three huge entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid —that account for more than 40 percent of all spending. Money for defense, veterans, and foreign policy will flow as usual. The $787 billion stimulus package will be exempt. Also spared will be the approximately $900 billion health-care bill — but that appears to be going nowhere fast. All told, about 12.5 percent of federal spending — that is, about $447 billion — will be affected when the new fiscal year begins in nine months.
Already deeply and rightly disappointed by Obama's Afghanistan troop surge, and frustrated beyond measure by the health-care-reform stalemate, left-wing progressives have gone ballistic at the news.
According to the most sanctimonious (yes, Rachel Maddow, you're one of them), Obama is worse than the devil. He is the reincarnation of Herbert Hoover. It's pretty hard to imagine calling a Democratic president anything nastier than that.
The fact of the matter is that, as splendid a figure as Obama cuts, he has been a disappointment, not only on Afghanistan and health care, but on gay and lesbian rights, as well. His policies may have prevented another Great Depression, but the White House can not expect the nation to thank the president for the worst recession in memory. That the crash is not Obama's fault is immaterial. It's his job to fix it.
This editorial goes to press several hours before Obama delivers his first State of the Union address. So, by the time you read this, you may be feeling better, or worse, or just plain numb.
Still, it's worth keeping three things in mind:
1. Obama is guilty of believing his own hype. The sooner he wakes up and smells reality, the better off the nation will be. The spending freeze — whatever its merits or demerits — is not an unreasonable move. If it works, he takes a bow; if it fails, he can repeal it.
2. The Republican decision to "just say no" to everything and anything is a far greater threat than any policy Obama has so far conjured. Progressives who think Obama has room to maneuver should have their heads examined — even if they have to pay out of pocket for psychiatric care. As for Democrats who flirt with the tea baggers and independents who swoon at the thought of Republican congressional control, they're certifiably insane. Republican doctrine shows no concern for the middle class, and even less for the poor.