Political Hay

The Audacity of Cynicism

Presidential words eventually must meet reality.

By 3.3.09

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In Barack Obama the Democrats have a communicator to nearly match the great communicator himself. Like Ronald Reagan, Obama's body language is non-threatening. His rhetoric reassures with its reasonableness and comforting cadence.

The difference is that with Reagan, America got policies and initiatives that accurately matched his words. With Obama, his words in no way match his actions. His lips say moderation, his actions say spend, tax and expand government.

It's understandable that most pundits marvel at his mastery of delivery, but few seem to note how remarkably comfortable Obama is with his own hypocrisy.

Consider his convincing calls for fiscal restraint coupled with his authorship of massive new spending? While it makes for great rhetoric, Obama's duplicity on the economy will have major negative consequences for Democrats in the 2010 mid-term elections.

A recent survey conducted by the Tarrance Group found that 69% of American voters call themselves conservative on fiscal issues like taxes and spending. And among self-described ticket-splitters the number is even higher with 74% calling themselves economic conservatives.

So how to reconcile that finding with poll results immediately after Obama's state of the union that showed public support for his economic plan had leapt to nearly 80%?

Clearly, President Obama understands he can't achieve his radical reorganization of America's economy by telling people that's what he actually intends. Rather he hides his real policy agenda behind a screen of dense rhetorical smoke.

Consider for example his promise to go through the budget "line by line" to eliminate wasteful spending and cut programs that aren't working almost hours after signing the biggest spending bill ever passed in the entire history of humankind.

And how about his pledge to halve the budget deficit after sponsoring a plan that spends nearly $700 million dollars every single day more than the government takes in?

Once the painful economic reality hits the twenty- and thirty-something's who provided Obama's winning election margins, it's unlikely they'll be quite so enthusiastic. After all, just the spending he's committed in his first four weeks will cost each of them the equivalent of 10 Caribbean vacations over the course of their lives -- or 50 new laptops and 500 new i-pods.

Despite his oft-promised job-creating infrastructure improvements, President Obama's so-called "stimulus" plan spends only about 15% of its nearly trillion dollar price-tag on actual infrastructure. Rather than investment, the Obama plan rolls back welfare reform, nearly doubles the national debt, and throws money at a random collection of government pork.

Oh, and don't forget that less than a week after signing this spending monstrosity, he had the audacity to convene a "Fiscal Responsibility Summit" at the White House.

We've only just seen the start of the spending spree. Obama has told his liberal allies he will push for universal health care, increase grants for college tuition, and promote a "re-tooled and re-imagined auto industry" Translation: a big fat Detroit Bailout.

So if Obama's duplicity is so easy to see, where's the outcry from the majority center-right mainstream of America's voters? Where are the demonstrations, the barricades and the pitchforks?

Be patient. The main body of the American electorate is usually more reserved in matters of politics and government than most of the rest of the world. They express their outrage in the polling booth.

Consider 1981. Fresh off President Reagan's election victory, most pundits believed it would be years before Republicans could stop blaming Jimmy Carter for the poor economy. After all, President Carter had left an economy far worse by nearly every measure than the economy Obama inherited from George W. Bush.

Rather than Obama's big government approach, Reagan cut marginal tax rates by 25%. But caution caused the cuts to be phased in over three years. Americans made Republicans pay for that caution. In the 1982 mid-term election, inflation had reached 13.5 percent, unemployment was at nearly 11 percent. Republicans lost 27 seats in the House that year.

In short, the American people expected results, and when they didn't get the results they'd voted for in 1980 -- they turned on Republicans in 1982. Then, just two years later in 1984, once Reagan's plan had launched the longest period of economic growth in American history, Reagan won every state in the nation for re-election save Mondale's home state of Minnesota.

At some point, the president's rhetoric must meet reality.

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About the Author

Tony Marsh is president of Marsh Copsey & Associates, Inc., a strategic communications and political consulting firm based in Washington, D.C.