While President-elect Obama has predicted “trillion-dollar deficits for years to come” and wants to push through a roughly $775 billion economic stimulus package on top of the $1.2 trillion deficit for 2009, he’s also talking about the need to restrain spending. As the AP notes, “The incoming president has walked this same tightrope each day this week – advocating fiscal discipline and taxpayer largesse together at nearly every turn, though in every case with little detail to back it up.”
Pretty soon we’ll witness the difference between speaking and governing — between being able to say whatever you want and actually having to make decisions and sacrifice some things for others.
During the campaign, Obama was brilliant at making everybody think that he agreed with them and was sympathetic to their goals. Rhetorically, it’s easy to convince people that he could give them everything they wanted while being fiscally responsible at the same time. During the first presidential debate, Jim Lehrer asked the candidates what they would give up as a result of the cost of the bailout. Obama started by saying, “there are a range of things that are probably going to have to be delayed” and “there’s no doubt that we’re not going to be able to do everything that I think needs to be done. There are some things that I think have to be done.” Then he went on to say, “We have to have energy independence…” and “We have to fix our health care system” … and “we have to do is we’ve got to make sure that we’re competing in education” … and we have to “make sure that college is affordable for every young person in America” … and “I also think that we’re going to have to rebuild our infrastructure” … and “mak[e] sure that we have a new electricity grid…”
So in other words, we’ll have to make tough decisions, but trillions of dollars in new spending is non-negotiable. That’s par for the course during campaigns, but impossible in the real world because it’s inherently contradictory. While it’s typical of presidents to not live up to the promise of their campaigns, Obama set the bar so high during the campaign with his soaring rhetoric, that the gap between election year fantasy and governing reality will be more pronounced.
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