2011-09-23 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

The Line That Divides
by Stuart W. Mirsky

With the president’s latest proposal to “fix” a listing economy burdened by a paucity of jobs and the depressed economic activity which should be creating them, it looks like the lines have been drawn in earnest going into the 2012 elections. There’s no mistaking this president anymore – and no going back to the narrative once happily promulgated about him, that he’s a man of moderation and compromise who can bring us together. True, he still manages to sound that way at times, but, with almost three years of his administration now in the bag, the evidence is in. And it tells a different story.

Nearly three years on we’ve got an historically expensive healthcare bill (which the majority of the nation didn’t want), massive “stimulus” spending which didn’t halt the jobs loss as promised, and increasingly heavy regulation which, combined with the uncertainty created by the looming debt crisis, has suppressed a once robust American economy. And now President Obama’s announced his plans to fix it all. Again. He’ll do it, he promises, by spending still more and upping tax rates on the wealthy. Spending cuts are promised, too, of course. The Congressional task force charged with coming up with savings through proposed cuts will just have to up the number they’re supposed to reach. Now that’s a plan for you.

In essence he wants others to add more to an already difficult target of future savings while spending what they “plan” to save now. But what’s to stop future Congresses, dealing with their own priorities, from simply disavowing what their predecessors did? In fact, that happens all the time in Washington, especially in matters of spending and taxing, where a promise is a promise – except when it isn’t. No future Congress can be bound by the votes of past Congresses while the spending will already have gone out the door.

That’s how you get into these debt messes in the first place and why normal people try to live within their means. But governments, it turns out, are a different animal. No one but the voters can hold them accountable and as long as they keep showering voters with more benefits, they won’t. Instead of tackling the growing debt he helped create and which threatens to swallow us in coming decades, President Obama figures to keep this game going by grabbing more from the “rich” now, while promising us cuts tomorrow.

The great debate in the upcoming national election could not be clearer thanks to the president’s stubborn adherence to this philosophy, a world view that last dominated the nation back in the seventies when “stagflation” was the watchword and Jimmy Carter told us about “national malaise.” Barack Obama’s a better speaker than Carter ever was, of course, but his national vision isn’t much different.

There are plenty in this country, though, who think he’s on the right track and some even question whether he’s gone far enough. We need more government jobs they say, more government money pumped into the private sector, too, money that’s been confiscated via taxation from the private sector in the first place – or simply borrowed from abroad. But who’ll be there to lend to us as we rack up deficits and debts at the current rate, obligations we can never hope to repay short of inflating the dollar until it’s nearly worthless? It’s only a matter of taxing the rich, right? They’re so not us!

The problem, of course, is that there just aren’t enough rich to go around when you really need that much cash and upping the tax burden, besides tending to continue growing over time, until it affects the rest of us, also drives investment down. And investment, like it or not, is the lifeblood of an economy, the source of jobs.

The recent election of a Republican in New York’s 9th Congressional District ought to have been a wake up call to the folks in the White House and their Democratic allies in Congress. With better than a 3:1 party registration in favor of Democrats in a district that hasn’t chosen a Republican for seventy years, what were the chances they would have done so this time? But they did. Still, there’s little indication that this message has gotten through. Some people, it seems, still have a kind of ideological cotton in their ears.

While there’s no way to predict the future, and elections are nearly always uncertain (at least in genuine democracies like ours), what is certain is that 2012 is going to matter in a way past elections haven’t. With national spending already so high that our financial security is seriously threatened for the first time in generations and a party and president in the White House intent on more of the same, it’s likely voters will have only one more opportunity to change the country’s direction. We can have no more illusions about this president. There will be no more moderating forces on him after 2012, no need for him to trim his sails in hopes of securing a third term, so he’ll just keep on spending, borrowing and taxing until we can’t spend, borrow or tax anymore. Inflation or depression is the only endgame here.

Of course, the passion for government benefice is great in the land and growing stronger all the time as more and more of us learn to be dependent on federal largess. More than half of all Americans no longer pay taxes, instead getting back “refunds” on what they never paid. It’s great to have someone take care of you, of course, when it’s all free. But it’s not free, is it? In the end someone’s always gotta pay.

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