The Spectacle Blog

Chait on Obama’s Passive-Aggressive Liberalism

By on 2.15.11 | 10:24AM

Jonathan Chait has a precious post defending Obama's meager budget cuts from angry liberals:

I don't think this will have a big effect. But I do think Obama is trying, in a passive-aggressive way, to do what liberals have demanded. He's explaining to the public that the free-ride view of budget cutting -- we can cut our way out of the deficit by eliminating waste and spending that only benefits foreigners -- is wrong. Obviously, having a budget in deficit during a period of mass unemployment and a GOP-led House immune to macroeconomic reason is a bad hand. I think ultimately Obama is playing it reasonably well.

It's true: you can't meaningfully cut federal spending by focusing exclusively on waste and foreign aid. Programs that benefit ordinary Americans will have to be cut too. But it helps to acknowledge that there is a fiscal crisis necessitating these actions, a crisis that can't be solved by trying to stimulate the economy with yet more domestic spending.

On yet another hand, when you concede the basic principle from the outset -- that the appropriate response to an economic crisis that's driven deficits up and interest rates to the bottom is to cut the domestic budget -- you've sort of lost even if you've won. At some point, don't Democrats have to stop winning debates by conceding ideological ground and start changing the ideological ground, by challenging the public's views on government?

This is basically whistling past the fiscal graveyard.  The public's view, which Chait wants to challenge, is that the government is basically broke. That it has made promises that it cannot afford to keep without miring the economy in taxes and debt. That view doesn't need to be challenged. It needs to become the basis of federal budget-making. Obama has made clear with his budget that he doesn't intend to make that happen.

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