Down With Shared Sacrifice

Muddled ideology leads to muddled rhetoric, which in turn leads to ineffective politics. This blog will periodically cite unfortunate examples.

Today's Exhibit A, sadly, is our president, who repeatedly calls for "shared sacrifice" in resolving the economic crisis and the related fiscal deficit. Though a call for shared sacrifice, in the hands of idiot pollsters, tests well at the level of civic platitude, in these economic times a Democrat should never simply call for shared sacrifice.

Why not? Because most Americans have sacrificed in advance--thanks to the recklessness of the financial elite. Regular people have lost income, jobs, trillions of dollars in the value of their homes and retirement savings. Millions of young adults who can't get traction in careers are back living with parents. Millions can't get or have lost health insurance. Isn't that enough shared sacrifice?

Oh, and bankers, with massive federal support, are doing better than ever. Where is their sacrifice?

You would think a progressive would get this intuitively, but the presidential wing of the Democratic Party is so loathe to articulate anything that can be disparaged as "class warfare" that Obama is reluctant to use clear, compelling language to defend the middle class against the extreme class warfare that has already been visited upon the vast majority of Americans.

On Friday, at Obama's most recent press conference, I thought I detected a learning curve. The president said, speaking of the need to include taxes on the well-off in a budget deal:

... This is not just a Democratic understanding; this is an understanding that I think the American people hold that we should not be asking sacrifices from middle-class folks who are working hard every day, from the most vulnerable in our society -- we should not be asking them to make sacrifices if we're not asking the most fortunate in our society to make some sacrifices as well. (emphasis added)

If you carefully parse this, the president deserves about a B-minus. He's saying that the middle class should make some sacrifices, but only if the "most fortunate" make some sacrifices, too. But why should the middle class make sacrifices at all? The very gentle language about class reflects Obama's fatal penchant for unity at all costs, coupled with a desire not to offend rich donors who are financing his prodigiously funded campaign.

Still, I thought the comments represented progress, because they made clear that some people have survived this collapse unscathed and should pay for some of the damage before asking ordinary Americans for further belt tightening.

But then came the Saturday radio address, and serious backsliding. Obama said:

I'm willing to compromise. I'm willing to do what it takes to solve this problem, even if it's not politically popular. And I expect leaders in Congress to show that same willingness to compromise. Simply put, it will take a balanced approach, shared sacrifice, and a willingness to make unpopular choices on all our parts. (emphasis added)

That gets a D-minus. It totally blows off the sacrifices that most people have already made, and allocates responsibility equally for a crisis brought on by reckless wealth.

Now, if you are inclined to cut Obama a lot of slack, you might blame the speechwriters and the likelihood that different handlers prepped him for the Friday press conference. But that alibi doesn't persuade. If the president had a clear inner compass, he'd notice the disjuncture and would not contradict himself so blatantly within the space of 24 hours.

Simple solution, or at least a good start: Banish the phrase "shared sacrifice" from Obama's lexicon.

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