|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Obama's self-interpretation is so persuasive that it has largely preempted other interpretations. Telling his story in relation to his missing father, the son explains how in finding his identity he grew from anger and cynicism to deep social commitment. The lack of deep attachments in his life, however, is a different issue. To speculate, it may have more to do with his relationship with his mother. When Barry Obama was 10, his mother sent him from Indonesia back to live with her parents in Hawaii. She returned there after her second marriage ended, but when she went back to Indonesia a few years later, her teenage son chose to stay in Hawaii. This loving but physically distant relationship seems to have left Obama self-reliant to an unusual degree.
For a politician, emotional self-sufficiency is both asset and liability. On the positive side, it supports Obama's rationalism, his level-headedness in crisis, and his dispassionate decision making. On the negative, it can read as cold, aloof, or arrogant. It's healthy that Obama doesn't need the roar of the crowd for validation. It's a problem that the crowd seems to need more from him than he is able to provide.
President Obama will call for a three-year freeze in spending on many domestic programs, and for increases no greater than inflation after that, an initiative intended to signal his seriousness about cutting the budget deficit, administration officials said Monday.
The officials said the proposal would be a major component both of Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address on Wednesday and of the budget he will send to Congress on Monday for the fiscal year that begins in October.
The freeze would cover the agencies and programs for which Congress allocates specific budgets each year, including air traffic control, farm subsidies, education, nutrition and national parks.
But it would exempt security-related budgets for the Pentagon, foreign aid, the Veterans Administration and homeland security, as well as the entitlement programs that make up the biggest and fastest-growing part of the federal budget: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
The payoff in budget savings would be small relative to the deficit: The estimated $250 billion in savings over 10 years would be less than 3 percent of the roughly $9 trillion in additional deficits the government is expected to accumulate over that time.
The initiative holds political risks as well as potential benefits. Because Mr. Obama plans to exempt military spending while leaving many popular domestic programs vulnerable, his move is certain to further anger liberals in his party and senior Democrats in Congress, who are already upset by the possible collapse of health care legislation and the troop buildup in Afghanistan, among other things.
Fiscally conservative Democrats in the House and Senate have urged Mr. Obama to support a freeze, and it would suggest to voters, Wall Street and other nations that the president is willing to make tough decisions at a time when the deficit and the national debt, in the view of many economists, have reached levels that undermine the nation’s long-term prosperity. Perceptions that government spending is out of control have contributed to Mr. Obama’s loss of support among independent voters, and concern about the government’s fiscal health could put upward pressure on the interest rates the United States has to pay to borrow money from investors and nations, especially China, that have been financing Washington’s budget deficit.
Republicans were quick to mock the freeze proposal. “Given Washington Democrats’ unprecedented spending binge, this is like announcing you’re going on a diet after winning a pie-eating contest,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for the House Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio.
A spending freeze will make it even harder to get jobs back because government is the last spender around. Consumers have pulled back, investors won’t do much until they know consumers are out there, and exports are minuscule.
Jobs may be coming back a bit in the next months but the country has lost so many (not to mention all those who have entered the workforce over the last two years and still can’t land a job) that it will be many years before the middle class can relax. Furthermore, this recession isn’t like other recessions in recent memory. It has more to do with problems deep in the structure of the American economy than with the ups and downs of the business cycle.
Like Clinton’s, Obama’s package of middle-class benefits is small potatoes. They’re worthwhile but they pale relative to the size and scale of the challenge America’s middle class is now facing. Obama can no longer afford to come up with lists of nice things to do. At the least, he’s got to do two very big and important things: 1) Enact a second stimulus. It should mainly focus on bailing out state and local governments that are now cutting services and raising taxes, and squeezing the middle class. This would be the best way to reinvigorate the economy quickly. 2) Help distressed homeowners by allowing them to include their mortgage debt in personal bankruptcy -- which will give them far more bargaining leverage with mortgage lenders. (Wall Street hates this.)
Yet instead of moving in this direction, Obama is moving in the opposite one. His three-year freeze on a large portion of discretionary spending will make it impossible for him to do much of anything for the middle class that’s important.