Barack Obama, a reputed master of the persuasive art, has settled on his central argument for the stimulus bill: I won.
That Obama is reduced to this crude appeal is a symptom of the intellectual collapse of the case for his stimulus bill, a congressional spendfest untethered from its stated goal of providing a rapid “jolt” to the economy.As far as political arguments go, “I won” has its power—provided it’s made on behalf of an agenda ratified by the American electorate. But Obama didn’t campaign on a sprawling, nearly $1 trillion new spending plan. If he had pledged in October to double federal domestic discretionary spending in a matter of weeks—including increasing the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts by a third, spending hundreds of millions more on federal buildings and throwing tens of billions on every traditional liberal priority from job training to Pell Grants—he’d have been hard-pressed to win at all.
The president should read the transcript of the third presidential debate. He claimed his program represented “a net spending cut.” He called himself “a strong proponent of pay-as-you-go. Every dollar that I’ve proposed, I’ve proposed an additional cut so that it matches.” He added, “We need to eliminate a whole host of programs that don’t work.”
Now, circumstances change, and no president can adhere to every jot and tittle from his campaign, but the “I won” argument only works if the campaign program matches the governing program. Obama himself seems confused on what exactly “I won” means.
When Barack Obama ran last year, he didn’t say he’d engage in faith-based economic policy on a grand scale. He didn’t say he’d toss aside the normal processes of governing. He didn’t say he’d quickly act to add waste to the federal budget. And he didn’t say he’d try to brush away criticism with the mere
assertion of his victory. On the stimulus, when Obama says “I won,” he’s out of better arguments.
Friday, February 6, 2009
National Review's Rich Lowry: