This week the op-ed columns have been full of outrage at the do-nothing presidency.
In National Review Online, Victor Davis Hanson writes of “Obama as Hamlet,” indecisive in his approach to the uprisings across the Arab world.
In the Washington Examiner, Michael Barone says the president is still following his practice in the Illinois legislature and voting “present” on great issues ranging from the budget to Libya.
At the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer heaps scorn on the administration’s claim that Social Security is not “broke.”
And on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Alaska governor Sean Parnell, a Republican, decries the Obama Administration’s continued unwillingness to allow any new drilling for oil anywhere in the United States, despite $100-plus a barrel prices going to some of the world’s worst actors.
But as everyone in Washington will tell you, inaction IS action. While committing himself to nothing more than “conversations” on this issue and that, the president is making a clear commitment. Despite all the campaign talk (it was long, long ago and far, far away) of hope and change, Barack Obama is now a status quo president, working directly or indirectly to prevent change on almost every front. Inaction is one of his most effective tools.
Consider this rundown:
Social Security, Medicare, and the rest of the budget:
Yes, as Krauthammer points out, fixing Social Security would be easy. A retirement age increase here, a move from wage to price indexing there, a bit of means testing thrown in and poof, job done. Yet amazingly, incomprehensibly, the Administration through its budget director Jack Lew recently announced that there is no problem.
Likewise, the president has nothing of substance to propose about cutting discretionary spending. After massive emergency budget increases in his first two years, he now says we should freeze spending in place, not return it to prior levels, even in the out years.
And his approach to Medicare has been to pile even greater costs into it through last year’s health overhaul legislation.
It doesn’t take a political savant to see what’s going on here.
Beginning two weeks ago, as Republicans gained traction in budget battles ranging from the State House in Madison, Wisconsin, to Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, Democratic Party leaders, left wing columnists and the labor unions mounted what was almost certainly a carefully coordinated counter-offensive.
“We are not broke” was their cry. Chances are somebody had handed around focus group results that told them to rally around this phrase, which they did with admirable message discipline, if not such admirable concern for the nation’s long-term health.
But almost any serious move towards budget cutting represents a loss for the president and his political entourage. Everyplace they might cut – except defense, where the knives are out – would wound one group of presidential backers or another.
The administration has nothing to gain from a single non-defense penny coming out of the budget. So denial, dismissal and delay serve the president’s purpose. He is taking action – and at the moment he appears to be winning.
Addressing the U.S. energy problem is a loser on every front for the president. Should we resume drilling in the Gulf or anywhere else in the nation? Every hole in the ground means lost votes in the environmental world. The entire point of talking about renewables like wind and solar all these years has been that they allow Mr. Obama to sound as though he is ready for action, but never to require him to effectively act.
The simple fact is that the president’s backers will never acquiesce to any substantial solution. At one time they loved ethanol. Federal subsidies brought it into mainstream use. Now the same crew that loved the corn derivative reviles it. If wind and solar should become prominent, look for this crowd to turn on them, too.
So again, the president is taking what he surely sees as his best available action on energy by not acting.
Libya and the Middle East:
The president’s reset button in the Middle East basically meant he was not going to give heartburn to established regimes, no matter how loathsome. It was only with crowds day after day in the streets of Cairo and the Egyptian military abandoning President Mubarak that the administration came late to the Egyptian democracy party. Yes, caution was appropriate here. But elsewhere in the Middle East, the administration’s status quo stance remains, including, effectively in Libya. To take another course would jeopardize the president’s liberal internationalist base, a key part of his anti-Iraq-War nominating coalition in 2008 and surely high in his mind again next year.
Everywhere the story is the same. The president is defending ground that he long ago staked out. Inaction is the most powerful action he can take just now.
You may not like his policies, but don’t get confused. The man is not voting present, and he is not an indecisive Hamlet. He has been taking clear actions – and for the most part, he has been getting the results he wants.