President Obama was interviewed by David Gregory yesterday, an event I had serious difficulty watching because I loathe David Gregory even more than I do Barack Obama when he’s being political. For the most part I found myself being okay with Obama, though, while wanting to smack Gregory in the face, neither of which feelings is particularly unusual, given that Obama was being less political than usual. He has the upper hand at the moment, so he doesn’t need to resort to sleaze as often as he did in his first term.
That didn’t keep him from doing it, of course, and doing so to a minor degree in response to the first question which was, “Are we going off the cliff?” A proper response would have been to say that we probably are but that the cliff is the wrong term and that it is only a gradual slope, so that there is still time to avert most of the damage and even to repair what damage does occur. What he did do is describe a financial cascade which starts with consumers not having enough to spend on new televisions.
Our economy depends, you know, on consumption; on people having enough money to sustain the “consumer spending” that is the backbone of our financial house of cards. Our whole GDP is a measure of how much we are spending at any given moment, and pays no attention to what we are doing with it. As it happens, we are wasting it on crap and are building nothing that will last beyond the current fiscal accounting period.
He then implies that we can avoid the cliff “if we have raised some revenue by the wealthy paying a little bit more,” which is a masterpiece of trivialization upon which I will not bother to elaborate.
When Gregory asks him what responsibility he bears for the cliff we are facing, given that he signed the legislation creating it into law, he does a Pontius Pilate act and washes his hands, claiming to be as pure as the driven snow. “If you look at my track record over the last two years,” he says, “I cut spending by over a trillion dollars in 2011.”
It’s hard to imagine what the hell he’s talking about there, since federal spending in fiscal year 2010 was $3.59 trillion, in 2011 it was $3.67 trillion and in 2012 it was $3.56 trillion. He just pulled that one of somewhere that sunshine is completely absent. A $1 trillion spending cut would be well over a 25% reduction in any one of those years, which would be one hell of an executive order.
He may be talking about the Budget Reconciliation Act of 2011, which calls for a $917 billion reduction spending cut over the next ten years, but that was passed by Congress over his objection in return for an increase in the debt ceiling, and it’s what caused the fiscal cliff in the first place. It’s kind of weird to be bragging about having caused the fiscal cliff while blaming the failure to resolve it on the Republicans. Not to mention that it isn’t “over a trillion dollars,” it’s a bit under a trillion.
His most duplicitous moment came when the subject turned to the inflation adjustment for Social Security and the “Chained CPI,” something which Obama admitted is “Highly unpopular among Democrats” and “Not something supported by AARP.” He described it as something that, “sounds real technical but basically makes an adjustment in terms of how inflation is calculated,” which is another masterpiece of trivialization upon which I am going to elaborate.
Full disclosure; yes, I am on Social Security, but this is not about me. I can live in a damned tent if I have to. It’s not even about the inflation adjustment for Social Security. It’s about the casual manner with which Obama dismisses it as a “technical adjustment” and advocates it with some glib commentary about “strengthening the program,” without admitting that it reduces the benefits for senior citizens.
This is Obama at his worst. It may be necessary to do this. I don’t think so, but assuming that it is, admit what you are doing, explain the effects that it will have, and justify it. This penchant for tossing it off with a glib non-explanation is dishonest.