That is the title of a column in the Washington Post of April 21, 2014 (just barely yesterday) by editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, signed openly, in which he argues that President Obama is doing things that are popular in the short term, but lose him American hearts and minds in the longer term. He starts on foreign policy, mentioning pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan and avoiding going into Syria, which supposedly involves "the emerging picture of an America in retreat, and a leader half-heartedly committed to promoting liberty," which he claims is "not what they [Americans] are looking for." He may be right, but this is not the part of his piece I wish to dump on hard.
That is when he shifts to domestic policy, which is the main topic of the column. Here we find that Obama has also failed in the long run, even though he is apparently pleasing public opinion in the short run, by not accepting what "The Bowles-Simpson commission had called for," (higher taxes and slower growth in Medicare and Social Security spending). Shame on him, even though indeed Hiatt recognizes that his non-acceptance is popular.
Now, I first want to remind everybody of a point that Dean Baker relentlessly emphasizes repeatedly (that is how he does things, good old Dean), that the Bowles-Simpson Commission never actually issued a report. Talking about what it "called for" or "recommended" or anything else of the sort is simply rank nonsense. They never came to an agreement because a substantial proportion of its Republican members, led by Paul Ryan, refused to accept the deal of higher taxes for spending cuts or restraints, because of the tax part. They simply refused to accept any higher taxes, period. And that was that. It is true that after this failure of the commission to come to an agreement, Bowles and Simpson themselves issued a set of recommendations that Hiatt accurately characterizes, but this was not a report of the commission, just those two men. But Hiatt simply ignores this and goes on about how Obama somehow missed this great opportunity to "have empowered Republicans in Congress - the Roy Blounts and Bob Corkers - who want to work with Democrats to get things done," even if what they want to get done is silly and unpopular, ignoring that the Paul Ryans outnumbered such folk, to the extent they were really willing to do anything anyway.
As it is, Hiatt grants Obama many points. He recognizes that indeed Obama supporting something supported by some Republicans may have simply led to that undermining any serious support among Republicans for such proposals. He does not mention ACA, but that is the prime example: an originally Republican proposal that in the end received zero GOP votes once Obama came out for it.
He even recognizes that maybe Obama "had no serious Republican partner," which sure as heck looks like it was the case, with again the ACA case paramount. Obama (and Congressional Dems) negotiated with many GOP congressional members on it, giving them many policy victories, but in the end failing to obtain a single vote from them in its favor.
Hiatt says he should have been more like LBJ in this time of nostalgia for him as one of those "other presidents would have given it more of a try." Well, indeed at various times during debt crisis negotiations, Obama even hinted at accepting changes in the Social Security COLA in exchange for some tax increases on the wealthy, the deal that Hiatt so very much wants from his Bowles-Simpson fixation. But, whenever Obama would float such proposals, they would get shot down by both sides, Republicans for the tax increase and Dems for the COLA change. But to Hiatt, he just did not try hard enough, thereby losing American hearts and minds in the long run.
Eventually Hiatt almost throws in his hat on the bottom line, "that Obama was right to steer clear of the 'austerity' of Simpson-Bowles," only then to deny that austerity is what is involved. He then goes on to paint his picture of doom with baby boomer entitlements gobbling up money for "national defense, national parks, colleges, railroads, Head Start," and so on. Never does he come to grips with what is really driving the longer term gloomy cost projections, which is health care costs, period.
Indeed, earlier this evening I heard it reconfirmed in a talk by Alice Rivlin, also long one of the VSPs pushing for such bipartisan deals, even praising Bowles-Simpson at one point and also noting her having founded the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, a fountainhead of rational and careful budgeteering along VSP lines. I cannot criticize her on this, particularly as indeed her talk pinpointed health care cost projections as the main issue. If these can be brought under control, then most of these bogeyman projections of deficit doom pretty much go away, a point that good old Dean Baker also relentlessly harps on. Unfortunately, she is not all that optimistic, despite noting some bending downwards of the healthcare cost curve in the wake of ACA, although warning this may be mostly due to the recession now coming to an end, maybe. I asked her a very Dean Baker question: would not increasing immigration of healthcare professionals help this? She agreed, but also noted how difficult politically it would be to pass such a reform.
So, I am willing to give Alice Rivlin credit for her tough realism, but Fred Hiatt just continues to wallow in some sort of fantasy land where cutting Social Security benefits is the proof of political manhood, and if only Obama had done this, by gosh by gum, he might even be able to lead the Dems to victory this fall in holding the Senate! He is simply a hopeless case, I fear.