Obama Drifts Away

Though he wrote the column before today's abysmal jobs report, Paul Krugman's latest on President Obama and the budget fight probably reflects what a lot of liberals are feeling right now:

It's getting harder and harder to trust Mr. Obama’s motives in the budget fight, given the way his economic rhetoric has veered to the right. In fact, if all you did was listen to his speeches, you might conclude that he basically shares the G.O.P.'s diagnosis of what ails our economy and what should be done to fix it. And maybe that’s not a false impression; maybe it's the simple truth.

One striking example of this rightward shift came in last weekend's presidential address, in which Mr. Obama had this to say about the economics of the budget: "Government has to start living within its means, just like families do. We have to cut the spending we can't afford so we can put the economy on sounder footing, and give our businesses the confidence they need to grow and create jobs."

That's three of the right's favorite economic fallacies in just two sentences. No, the government shouldn't budget the way families do; on the contrary, trying to balance the budget in times of economic distress is a recipe for deepening the slump. Spending cuts right now wouldn't "put the economy on sounder footing." They would reduce growth and raise unemployment. And last but not least, businesses aren't holding back because they lack confidence in government policies; they're holding back because they don't have enough customers — a problem that would be made worse, not better, by short-term spending cuts.

The progressives who were so hopeful two and a half years ago have been beaten down by this presidency, in so many different ways. I'm not talking about the "professional left" but rank-and-file people of all kinds. It was naive to think that Obama would flash his smile and everything would turn to flowers and rainbows. But people thought he had a progressive worldview and would endeavor to promote that worldview. What he believes in his heart is unknowable, but he has certainly shown little eagerness to make a strong case for progressivism and against conservatism, always preferring to argue that "Washington" is the problem (just like Republicans say). People thought he understood his opponents, but again and again, he has shown that he doesn't; their increasing radicalism and willingness to employ any tactics seems lost on him. Recall that after the 2010 election, when a deal was reached on the extension of the Bush tax cuts, he said they didn't bother including a debt-ceiling increase, because now that Republicans had a majority in the House, they'd have to govern responsibly. So no problem.

We obviously don't know the details of whatever deal may (or may not) be reached, but at this point, the best-case scenario looks like a deal in which the administration agrees to seriously hamper an already weak economy in order to avoid default. In other words, I'll punch myself in the face, if that'll keep you from stabbing me in the heart. If and when that deal is reached, Obama will announce it as a great victory. And people will be justifiably disgusted.

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