February 01, 2011

Did anyone detect in the president’s pleasant demeanor that night any sense of urgency, any sense that this time the wolf is really at the door? Did anyone hear a call for sacrifices, and not just small ones, to pull our country back from the precipice of national default?

The disconnect between the Tea Party Republicans and the president could not be greater. He is talking about bullet trains and infrastructure; they are talking of defunding Amtrak and the Washington, D.C., subway system.

They are talking about raising the retirement age for Social Security, which is now sending out more in monthly checks than it is taking in in payroll taxes. Obama is being congratulated by the liberal wing of his party for refusing even to bow in that direction.

What the White House is about may be smart short-term politics, but it is the antithesis of leadership. They are going to let the Republicans take the lead and take the heat for proposing painful budget cuts, then play “good cop” and battle to restore those cuts and win the gratitude of the beneficiaries of those programs.

But it is late in the day for political games.

For both the welfare state—the major entitlement programs, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security—and the warfare state—the near $1 trillion we spend yearly on wars, 700 to 1,000 military bases in some 140 countries, foreign aid and the military industrial complex—have to be downsized.

We cannot make good on all the promises our politicians have made, and we cannot defend in perpetuity all the countries we agreed to defend in the Cold War.

And if this downsizing is not done by our leaders, the decisions will be forced upon us when China and our other creditors come to us to say: We have enough of your dollars. We don’t want any more. But if we must take them, we want a higher rate of interest to cover the higher risk of default. For you Americans look to us to be headed for the same place where Greece and Ireland may be found today.

Obama’s conscious avoidance of any specific recommendations for deep budget cuts, commensurate with the crisis we face, may be rewarded if we avert that crisis before November 2012. But if the crisis hits sooner, his epitaph will be that he lacked the vision to see what everyone else saw or he lacked the courage to rise to the occasion.

Either way, Obama will have failed his country.


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