After his party's crushing defeat in the midterms, Jonathan Alter (or was it Howard Fineman) told President Obama that he needed to stop governing in prose and start governing in poetry. Whatever that means. “In Xanadu, did Barack Khan, a stately memorial campaign decree…”
But in all seriousness, President Obama seems to be taking the advice, if not governing in poetry at least governing in symbols. We experienced some of that in Tucson with the awkwardly themed “Together We Thrive” memorial service, where everyone walked away with free Organizing for America swag; that is, everyone except the victims. Now today we are informed the president will sign an executive order that outlines a review process of unnecessary restrictions and regulations that are stifling businesses and job growth.
The majority of America approves, and Obama’s poll numbers are on the uptick. Three cheers for Mr. President, except well… haven’t we been down this road before? For those willing to buy the razzle-dazzle of Obama’s new symbolism, look no further than the president’s past record of placating voting blocs with meaningless, highly publicized executive orders from closing Guantanamo Bay to lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling. It goes without saying that neither accomplished a damn thing. In fact, there are more restrictions to offshore drilling and fewer permits are being granted than ever before. The executive decisions we should all worry about are made in the dead of night, and they don't come with press releases or photo-ops.
The "pro-business" executive order and Wall Street Journal editorial written by the president are political theater from the master of political theater, cover for the mainstream media to rehabilitate Obama’s image as a centrist (they’ve been calling him that anyway, but when you host a show on MSN-DNC, who exactly is to the left of you?). Remember, Democrats don’t believe they lose elections because of their policies. Democrats believe they lose because of their messaging. Thus, there’s no need to turn the ship around or steer it in another direction due to public disapproval, just strike up the band and attempt to lift the poor saps spirits before they notice we're headed toward an iceberg.
So we are told what's needed to insert some sanity into unreasonable government meddling is another executive order that specifies how the government should reasonably meddle. It won't be long before we get new committees to recommend new regulations on how to regulate the new committees to make sure no one is overregulating the regulators. This is the essence of governing in symbols, and Obama has it down pat.
While the president has clearly mastered governing in symbols, don't expect to see triangles, for as much as Obama loves symbols, you won’t see him embrace triangulation like President Clinton. Obama’s symbol of choice has always been the circle, and it’s his circular logic that always brings him back to the story arc of government protecting the people from the "excesses" of free enterprise.
Nothing's changed, despite the new rhetoric. No president serious about eliminating onerous regulations takes over one-sixth of the American economy and places draconian measures on insurance companies, medical device manufacturers, hospitals, and doctors. You don't grow the size of government by 25% in 18 months and pass the Financial Reform or Food and Safety bills if you are focused on cutting the bureaucratic tape that hampers business opportunities. President Obama has used the regulatory agencies of his administration to come down harder on industry than any president since FDR (and FDR didn't have near as many bureaucrats at his disposal).
In fact, for all his effort to fool voters, Obama’s editorial in the Wall Street Journal is a tell for his ideological position. In articulating the need for government to “strike the right balance” between freedom and security, he illustrates his lack of understanding the meaning of God-granted freedoms. You could say the Obama Doctrine is the antithesis of Benjamin Franklin’s much-quoted, “Any society that would give up a little freedom for a little security will have neither and lose both.” But Ben Franklin is just some stuffy, old, rich white guy who helped write the Declaration of Independence. What does he know?
If you want to see how most of America views our success as a nation, read the first paragraph of Obama's editorial. It's brilliantly written and comes close to describing American Exceptionalism. But there's a reason it's the starting point for his article, not the finale. Barack doesn't see the world this way. To understand the president's mindset, you have to start in the second paragraph where he writes, "But throughout history, one of the reasons the free market has worked is we that have sought the proper balance... with regulations necessary to protect the public."
And there are more troubling passages hidden in the gobbledygook:
But creating a 21st-century regulatory system is about more than which rules to add and which rules to subtract. As the executive order I am signing makes clear, we are seeking more affordable, less intrusive means to achieve the same ends—giving careful consideration to benefits and costs. This means writing rules with more input from experts, businesses and ordinary citizens. [emphasis mine]
Question: if the government is creating a new regulatory system, adding rules, and writing rules with more input from experts (experts being statists and special interests), how does this promote free market solutions? It sounds like the same old anti-business, command-and-control economy. In fact, judging by the last paragraph, it is:
Despite a lot of heated rhetoric, our efforts over the past two years to modernize our regulations have led to smarter—and in some cases tougher—rules to protect our health, safety and environment. Yet according to current estimates of their economic impact, the benefits of these regulations exceed their costs by billions of dollars.
This is the lesson of our history: Our economy is not a zero-sum game. Regulations do have costs; often, as a country, we have to make tough decisions about whether those costs are necessary. But what is clear is that we can strike the right balance. [emphasis mine]
In other words, the past two years were a testament to how regulation should work in our country, not an aberration, according to President Obama. The passage of all these monstrosities has "led to smarter rules". One can only infer from these statements that the president's 2011 agenda will reiterate the need for government to “strike the right balance” between business and regulation by taking over more aspects of the economy. In other words, more of the same, but this time masked by friendlier language and symbols.