In an interview on Uncommon Knowledge (5/12/2012), economist Thomas Sowell noted that Barack Obama "has a talent for saying things that make no sense sound plausible and even inspiring." It takes a certain facility with words, but it also requires a measure of arrogance and the complicity of the press to achieve persuasion. All three were evident in the president's remarks on Tuesday.
The president has a gift for working from a premise, confidently stated, as incontrovertible fact. For instance, "the shutdown has caused businesses to reconsider spending and hiring." Mr. Obama implied that a Republican-engineered shutdown had effectively turned a thriving recovery into an economy teetering on the verge of recession. In reality, Obamacare and tax increases on sole proprietors, partnerships and subchapter S corporations caused businesses to curtail spending and freeze hiring. Rather than sabotaging a thriving recovery, Obamacare was preventing one. That's how we got here. The shutdown obviously hampers business activity, but it is just additional uncertainty undermining growth.
The president went on to give a primer on the debt ceiling and he explained how raising the debt ceiling does not raise the debt or increase the deficit. In an illusion that would humble Siegfried and Roy, he is technically correct. Raising the debt ceiling does not raise the debt per se. Borrowing raises the debt and spending increases the deficit. The debt has not increased in more than 100 days because the Treasury has used 'extraordinary measures,' i.e. the liquidation of assets. So, if the spending has already been authorized and the cash reserves are further depleted, isn't an increase in the debt and deficit inevitable?
The president suggested that the shutdown had taken his attention from other pressing concerns. He had to miss critical meetings in Asia to stay in Washington and prevent an economic collapse. Speaking of China, he said "there are areas where we have differences and they can present their point of view and not get much as much of a push-back as (they would) if I were there." So, by engaging in shutdown extortion and failing to recognize how indispensable he is, we have endangered the recovery and put the country at the mercy of foreign interests. Now, he will have to save the economy yet again.
President Obama said emphatically that he is willing to talk about anything. He doesn't even need Republicans for that. In fact, you can't stop him from talking. Unfortunately, the talk he desires is post-game analysis. Negotiation and compromise can't take place after the game ends. He wants to have a drink to celebrate his victory with the vanquished.
The press is less an adversary to Obama than a sparring partner. You give the champ a little workout, but never land a serious blow. There were no questions on the catastrophic roll-out of the exchanges and not a single mention of revisiting the federal employee exemption as a tool for averting the crisis. The press may have some doubts about Obama, but they keep them to themselves.
This time the gifted one came up short. The president's remarks were a tiresome exercise in self esteem and spin. John Boehner's response was competent and brief, highlighting the lack of anything new in the faux conciliation proposed by the president. Failure to resolve the current impasse hurts the president and the Democrats every bit as much as the Republicans. Obamacare, spending cuts and tax reform are all still on the table unless the Republicans pull Democrats fat from the fire. Boehner should draw a red line and show Mr. Obama how it is done.