Regardez dans le ciel ! C’est un oiseau? C’est un avion? C’est une éclipse soudaine vous plongeant vous et trois états entiers dans l’obscurité totale? Non, c’est l’Incroyable Hulk fendant l’air, luttant pour la vérité, la justice et the American way. En fait, ce serait plutôt the European way. Mais les Américains finiront bien par s’y habituer. Mark Steyn
Je pense donc que l’espèce d’oppression, dont les peuples démocratiques sont menacés ne ressemblera à rien de ce qui l’a précédée dans le monde (…) un pouvoir immense et tutélaire, qui se charge seul d’assurer leur jouissance et de veiller sur leur sort. Il est absolu, détaillé, régulier, prévoyant et doux. Il ressemblerait à la puissance paternelle si, comme elle, il avait pour objet de préparer les hommes à l’âge viril; mais il ne cherche, au contraire, qu’à les fixer irrévocablement dans l’enfance. Tocqueville
Désolé, papa, je vote Obama. Christopher Buckley (le 10 octobre, 2008)
A l’heure où les Républicains américains se sentent obligés de choisir un noir comme nouveau leader …
Et où un enfant de 13 ans est obligé de leur rappeler les principes de leur héritage …
Nouvelles victimes de l’Obamalâtrie et dur réveil pour un certain nombre d’éditorialistes de la droite modérée américaine ou britannique qui avaient appelé à voter Obama …
Comme, suite à la présentation du budget proprement stratosphérique (près de 4 mille milliards de dollars, soit, excusez du peu, près d’un tiers de la dette totale du pays pour une seule année!) de l’homme qui valait six mille milliards, les commentateurs Christopher Buckley (fils du célèbre éditorialiste), Clive Crook (Financial Times) ou, merci lagrette, David Brooks (NYT) …
Le Président Barack Obama a donné son premier discours sur l’Etat de l’Union (….) Le président a présenté un budget de 3,6 mille milliards de dollars et a annoncé que nous quittons l’Irak mais pas vraiment (…) Ah, une seconde, il doit y avoir une coquille dans ce paragraphe. » 3,6 mille milliards de dollars de budget », ça peut pas être ça. La totalité de notre dette nationale fait dans les – quoi – 11 mille milliards de dollars? C’est pas possible qu’il propose de dépenser presque un tiers de cela en une seule année, sûrement. Je vérifie. Hmm. Non, non, c’est bien ça. Le Wall Street Journal note que les dépenses fédérales pour l’année fiscale 2009 monteront à presque 30 pour cent du PNB. Dans la langue que même un ignare de littéraire comme moi peut comprendre, ça veut dire que le gouvernement américain dépense maintenant annuellement environ un tiers de ce que produit l’économie nationale dans sa totalité.
Je reconnais que je dois des excuses aux Républicains. (…) Le projet de budget ne contient aucune trace de compromis. Il ne fait aucun geste, aussi petit soit-il, aussi peu coûteux soit-il pour son ordre du jour général, d’une approche bipartie sur les grandes questions qu’il traite. C’est un nouveau New Deal de rêve pour la gauche. (…) Que Barack Obama sera bon pour le pays reste à voir. On peut en tout cas être sûr qu’il est le pire cauchemar de la droite. (…) Quand M. Obama parle « d’une nouvelle ère de responsabilité » il ne veut pas dire : « On est tous dans le même bateau». Il veut dire : « Les riches sont responsables de ce désordre et ils vont maintenant le payer». La gauche démocrate est aux anges et avec raison. Le budget a trois thèmes: la réforme du système de santé, l’investissement public et la redistribution à tout va. C’est en effet un nouveau contrat social : nous produisons, ils paient. La gauche ne s’est jamais aussi mieux portée.
Ceux d’entre nous qui se considèrent modérés – modérés de droite, dans mon cas – sont forcés d’affronter la réalité que Barack Obama n’est pas celui que nous pensions. Il a un discours responsable et un enthousiasme contagieux. Mais ses actions trahissent un gauchisme transformationnel qui devrait interpeller tout centriste.
The Audacity of Nope
The Daily beast
March 1, 2009
One feels almost unpatriotic, entertaining negative thoughts about Obama’s grand plan. But it is far from clear that spending oceanic sums of money is the right corrective.
That was, as Tom Lehrer would say, the week that was. President Barack Obama gave his first State of the Union speech. Governor Bobby Jindal gave his first and possibly last Republican response. The president presented a $3.6 trillion budget, and announced that we are getting out of Iraq but not really. And Rush Limbaugh gave—as he put it, fun intended—his first nationally televised address to the nation.
Just remember the apothegm that a government that is big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take it all away.
Hold on—there’s a typo in that paragraph. “$3.6 trillion budget” can’t be right.The entire national debt is—what—about $11 trillion? He can’t actually be proposing to spend nearly one-third of that in one year, surely. Let me check. Hmm. He did. The Wall Street Journal notes that federal outlays in fiscal 2009 will rise to almost 30 percent of the gross national product. In language that even an innumerate English major such as myself can understand: The US government is now spending annually about one-third of what the entire US economy produces. As George Will would say, “Well.”
Now let me say: Unlike Rush Limbaugh, I want President Obama to succeed. I honestly do. We are all in this leaky boat together—did I say “leaky”? I meant “sieve-like”—and it would be counterproductive, if not downright suicidal, to want it to go down just to prove a conservative critique of Keynesian economics.
But let’s all be honest about this: No one knows how all this is going to turn out in the end. Do you, really? If we learned one thing during the runup to this rancid enchilada, it is that most of the smartest people in the room were wrong, and the other ones were crooked.
Even today, smart people are still holding spittle-flying debates about what really ended the Great Depression. (That’s reassuring, isn’t it?) Personally, I’m in the camp that maintains it was Pearl Harbor, not FDR’s policies, that actually brought it to an end. Which, I suppose, leaves me to wonder if the best we can hope for is another sneak attack by Japan. Bring it on, as our former president would say. Let’s just pray Japan hasn’t quietly produced The Bomb since 1945. All those centrifuges they said they needed for “flat-screen plasma TVs”? Uh oh….
I’m all for audacity and all for hope. “L’audace, l’audace—toujours l’audace!” (Frederick the Great) is an inspiring motto. It worked for Patton. Whatever you think of this leviathan budget, President Obama cannot be accused of being a trimmer, or reticent. And with the New York Times running heart-breaking front-page stories about out-of-work executives now working as $11-an-hour janitors, I’m all for hope, too. Governor Jindal and El Rushbo may not be happy campers, but even Senator John McCain has been sounding positive notes about President Obama’s leadership—while at the same time focusing the nation’s attention on the president’s (ahem) proposed new $11 billion fleet of helicopters. It would be presidential for him to say, as he almost has, that he’ll keep the old model for a few more years.
The strange thing is that one feels almost unpatriotic, entertaining negative thoughts about Mr. Obama’s grand plan, as if one were indulging in—call it—the audacity of nope. It is on the one hand clear that something must be done about our economic woes. But that is very different from saying that spending these vast, oceanic sums of money is the right corrective to a decade of fiscal incontinence.
One thing is certain, however: Government is getting bigger and will stay bigger. Just remember the apothegm that a government that is big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take it all away.And remember what de Tocqueville told us about a bureaucracy that grows so profuse that not even the most original mind can penetrate it.
If this is what the American people want, so be it, but they ought to have no illusions about the perils of this approach. Mr. Obama is proposing among everything else $1 trillion in new entitlements, and entitlement programs never go away, or in the oddly poetic bureaucratic jargon, “sunset.” He is proposing $1.4 trillion in new taxes, an appetite for which was largely was whetted by the shameful excesses of American CEO corporate culture. And finally, he has proposed $5 trillion in new debt, one-half the total accumulated national debt in all US history. All in one fell swoop.
He tells us that all this is going to work because the economy is going to be growing by 3.2 percent a year from now. Do you believe that? Would you take out a loan based on that? And in the three years following, he predicts that our economy will grow by 4 percent a year.
This is nothing if not audacious hope. If he’s right, then looking back, March 2009 will be the dawn of the Age of Stimulation, or whatever elegant phrase Niall Ferguson comes up with. If he turns out to be wrong, then it will look very different, the entrance ramp to the Road to Serfdom, perhaps, and he will reap the whirlwind that follows, along with the rest of us.
Christopher Buckley’s books include Supreme Courtship, The White House Mess, Thank You for Smoking, Little Green Men, and Florence of Arabia. He was chief speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush, and the founder and editor-in-chief of Forbes FYI.
The budget reveals the liberal Obama
March 1 2009
Barack Obama’s first budget is a revelation. The US president’s plans will not come to pass in the form he suggests. Congress writes the laws and will make a hash of it. Still, this first full statement of intentions speaks volumes, and leaves me in a paradoxical position. On one hand, I admire much of what the budget says. On the other, I feel I owe Republicans an apology.
As you recall, in the debate over the fiscal stimulus, Republicans accused the president of presenting a measure they could not support, disguising this with an empty show of co-operation. Bipartisanship, they said, is more than inviting your opponents round for coffee and a chat. I did not buy it: I accused them, in effect, of brainless rejectionism and a refusal to compromise, and congratulated the president for trying to come to terms with the other side.
This budget says the Republicans had Mr Obama right all along. The draft contains no trace of compromise. It makes no gesture, however small, however costless to its larger agenda, of a bipartisan approach to the great questions it addresses. It is a liberal’s dream of a new New Deal.
To be sure, there is much in this vision to admire. For a start, who expects a politician to keep his promises? With the economy crumbling and public borrowing through the roof, Mr Obama had every excuse to slither away from healthcare reform.
In the same breath, as it were, that he announces a deficit of $1,750bn (€1,380bn, £1,226bn) this year, he requests a 10-year $635bn down payment toward the cost of that reform. Mr Obama knows that the president who gives the US universal healthcare is assured of his place in history alongside FDR. He means to do it.
One may question the timing, and the method as well, no doubt, once the administration says what that will be. But the goal is worthy, one that any centrist can endorse. Most of the country wants healthcare reform and is willing to pay something for it.
When Mr Obama turns to financing this historic initiative, however, he moves left. His budget pencils in roughly $80bn a year in new revenues from a carbon cap-and-trade system – another welcome innovation, by the way, in my view. Does he use those revenues to pay for the new healthcare reserve, or to close the deficit in outlying years? No, he uses them to make permanent the tax credits in the fiscal stimulus: rebates and subsidies tilted to the working poor. To pay for healthcare reform, the plan curbs Medicare payments to private providers and, unexpectedly, reduces the value of income-tax deductions claimed by the better off.
So as well as reversing the Bush tax cuts for households making more than $250,000 a year, as promised during the campaign, the budget comes up with another way to extract tax from high earners. All but 5 per cent of households will pay “not a dime” for the panoply of public investments in the blueprint.
Take this budget at face value, and when Mr Obama talks about “a new era of responsibility” he does not mean: “We are all in this together.” He means: “The rich are responsible for this mess and it is payback time.” Leftist Democrats are thrilled, and rightly so. The budget has three themes: healthcare reform, public investment and unflinching redistribution. This is indeed a new social contract: we get, they pay. Liberals never had it so good.
Tactically speaking, Mr Obama may have overdone it. If I were advising him, I would say that the elation of his party’s progressive wing is a red flag. It mocks the president’s claim to be a consensus-builder, and tells the centre to watch out. Keep the left unhappy, would be my counsel.
The administration will have many chances to row back, of course, and to succeed it will have to. Despite optimistic assumptions, the budget leaves a full-employment budget deficit of 3 per cent of gross domestic product – not counting the full costs of healthcare reform, which the budget mentions but fails to provide for, and longer-term demographic and other pressures. Spending cuts and new taxes on the broad middle class are going to be needed; and to get those passed, the president will need support from the political centre.
For the moment, though, this budget reveals Mr Obama with new clarity. He is no Tony Blair, ideologically rootless, as I had previously suspected. He is a conviction politician: a bold progressive liberal. Yet his outreach to Republicans is no sham; his civility, I think, is not a front. He respects people who disagree with him, is capable of liking them, and is always willing to listen – but then stays true to his beliefs. This is a rare and devastating combination.
For years in the US, the Democratic left, despite a surfeit of brilliant minds, has neutered itself with its own rage. The fixed expression of progressive liberalism has been anger and contempt – with perplexity at its lack of political success mixed in for comic effect. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Amid an economic crisis, with capitalism under fire and the country looking to government for answers, the liberal left finally has a leader with brains, who shares its convictions, yet is as friendly and as likeable to the politically uncommitted as anyone could wish – so appealing, in fact, that the party almost chose somebody else to lead it.
Whether Mr Obama will be good for the country remains to be seen. We can already be sure that he is conservatism’s worst nightmare.
A Moderate Manifesto
The New York Times
March 3, 2009
You wouldn’t know it some days, but there are moderates in this country — moderate conservatives, moderate liberals, just plain moderates. We sympathize with a lot of the things that President Obama is trying to do. We like his investments in education and energy innovation. We support health care reform that expands coverage while reducing costs.
But the Obama budget is more than just the sum of its parts. There is, entailed in it, a promiscuous unwillingness to set priorities and accept trade-offs. There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor — caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once.
So programs are piled on top of each other and we wind up with a gargantuan $3.6 trillion budget. We end up with deficits that, when considered realistically, are $1 trillion a year and stretch as far as the eye can see. We end up with an agenda that is unexceptional in its parts but that, when taken as a whole, represents a social-engineering experiment that is entirely new.
The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment. Yet the Obama budget is predicated on a class divide. The president issued a read-my-lips pledge that no new burdens will fall on 95 percent of the American people. All the costs will be borne by the rich and all benefits redistributed downward.
The U.S. has always been a decentralized nation, skeptical of top-down planning. Yet, the current administration concentrates enormous power in Washington, while plan after plan emanates from a small group of understaffed experts.
The U.S. has always had vibrant neighborhood associations. But in its very first budget, the Obama administration raises the cost of charitable giving. It punishes civic activism and expands state intervention.
The U.S. has traditionally had a relatively limited central government. But federal spending as a share of G.D.P. is zooming from its modern norm of 20 percent to an unacknowledged level somewhere far beyond.
Those of us who consider ourselves moderates — moderate-conservative, in my case — are forced to confront the reality that Barack Obama is not who we thought he was. His words are responsible; his character is inspiring. But his actions betray a transformational liberalism that should put every centrist on notice. As Clive Crook, an Obama admirer, wrote in The Financial Times, the Obama budget “contains no trace of compromise. It makes no gesture, however small, however costless to its larger agenda, of a bipartisan approach to the great questions it addresses. It is a liberal’s dream of a new New Deal.”
Moderates now find themselves betwixt and between. On the left, there is a president who appears to be, as Crook says, “a conviction politician, a bold progressive liberal.” On the right, there are the Rush Limbaugh brigades. The only thing more scary than Obama’s experiment is the thought that it might fail and the political power will swing over to a Republican Party that is currently unfit to wield it.
Those of us in the moderate tradition — the Hamiltonian tradition that believes in limited but energetic government — thus find ourselves facing a void. We moderates are going to have to assert ourselves. We’re going to have to take a centrist tendency that has been politically feckless and intellectually vapid and turn it into an influential force.
The first task will be to block the excesses of unchecked liberalism. In the past weeks, Democrats have legislated provisions to dilute welfare reform, restrict the inflow of skilled immigrants and gut a voucher program designed for poor students. It will be up to moderates to raise the alarms against these ideological outrages.
But beyond that, moderates will have to sketch out an alternative vision. This is a vision of a nation in which we’re all in it together — in which burdens are shared broadly, rather than simply inflicted upon a small minority. This is a vision of a nation that does not try to build prosperity on a foundation of debt. This is a vision that puts competitiveness and growth first, not redistribution first.
Moderates are going to have to try to tamp down the polarizing warfare that is sure to flow from Obama’s über-partisan budget. They will have to face fiscal realities honestly and not base revenue projections on rosy scenarios of a shallow recession and robust growth next year.
They will have to take the economic crisis seriously and not use it as a cue to focus on every other problem under the sun. They’re going to have to offer an agenda that inspires confidence by its steadiness rather than shaking confidence with its hyperactivity.
If they can do that, maybe they can lure this White House back to its best self — and someday offer respite from the endless war of the extremes.
The Six-Trillion-Dollar Man
Fighting for truth, justice, and the European way.
February 28, 2009
The superheroes I always found hard to keep track of were the ones who kept relaunching themselves. I mean, Batman’s been Batman for 70 years and Spider-Man’s been Spider-Man for the best part of 50. But I’m thinking of chaps like Ant-Man. Very small, as one might expect. Then he became Giant-Man. Then he became Yellowjacket (his girlfriend was the Wasp). Then he became Goliath. I’ve lost track of him since then. But, thanks to my usual 20-second exhaustive research, I see he was relaunched only a month ago, this time as the Wasp. Hang on, I thought the Wasp was his chick? Has he had a sex-change? Hey, why not? For a while he was both Giant-Man and Yellowjacket, playing a kind of schizoid double-hero with each superpower emphasizing a different side of his identity.
Anyway, that’s how I feel about the endlessly morphing supergovernment hero battling the planet-swallowing economic crisis. Back in September, we were told to put our faith in Bailoutman. Then in January, Bailoutman went to his tailor, had the long underwear redesigned, and relaunched himself as Mister Stimulus. A few weeks later the Obama crowd noticed that “stimulus,” like “bailout,” had become a cheap punch line, and decided the approved term was “recovery.” So Captain Recovery swung into action.
In fairness to Ant-Man, he got very small, and then he got big, and then he got small again, and then he got super-big, and for a while he was both small and big, in a superheroically bipartisan way. But Bailoutman started out as a huge staggering behemoth and has inflated from there. Once upon a time he was as a meek, mild-mannered trillionaire, but a mere five months later he was a meek, mild-mannered multi-trillionaire.
If you find it hard to keep track of these all these evolutions, the President in his address to Congress finally spilled the beans and unveiled our new hero in his final form: the Incredible Bulk, Statezilla, Governmentuan, a colossus bestriding the land like a, er, colossus. What superpowers does he have? All of them! He can save the economy, he can reform health care, he can prevent foreclosures, he can federalize daycare, he can cap the salary of his archenemies the sinister Fat Cats who “pad their pay checks and buy fancy drapes.” No longer will the citizenry cower in fear of fancy drapes: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! With one solar panel on the roof of his underground headquarters, Governmentuan can transform the American energy sector and power his amazing Governmentmobile, the new environmentally friendly supercar that soon we’ll all be driving because we’ll be given government car loans to buy the government cars! He’ll have hundreds of thousands of boy sidekicks, none of whom will ever be allowed to drop out of high school because (in the words of his famous catchphrase) “that’s no longer an option!” “Gee, thanks, Governmentuan!” says Diplomaboy the Boy Wonder, as he goes off to college to study Gender As A Social Construct until he’s 34.
And our hero can do this all without raising taxes on any family earning under $250,000!
Look — up in the sky: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a sudden eclipse plunging you and three adjoining states into total darkness? No, it’s the Incredible Bulk flailing through the air, fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. Well, actually, it’s more like the European way. But Americans will get used to it after a while.
Of course, when Barack Obama is accused of creating his Six-Trillion-Dollar Man “because I believe in bigger government” he denies it: “I don’t,” he says flatly. This is like Clark Kent telling Lois Lane he’s not Superman: They just look a bit similar when he removes his glasses. Likewise, any connection between Obama and a Big Government behemoth swallowing everything in sight is entirely coincidental.
Do you ever go back to the first issue of this comic book and try to figure out what the plot’s all about? Wasn’t it something to do with subprime mortgages and two strange creatures called Fannie and Freddie? And then it became something to do with saving banks, wasn’t that it? And somewhere along the way the Big Three auto makers got involved? And now it’s about everything. Obama is going to do everything. So he needs to be able to spend everything. Only we don’t call it “spending” anymore. Everything government “spends” is now deemed an “investment.” Government will “invest” in “more efficient cars,” it will “invest” in daycare, it will “invest” in a new Federal Regulatory Agency of Fancy Drapes and Window Treatments. It will “invest” in an impact study group that will study the impact of recalling every edition of Webster’s and pasting in it a little Post-It note on the page defining “spend” saying “obsolete — see ‘invest.’ ”
If you’re feeling a sudden urge to “invest” in a gallon of tequila and a couple of hookers and wake up with an almighty hangover and no pants in a rusting dumpster on a bit of abandoned scrub round the back of the freight yards, it may be because you’re one of that dwindling band of Americans foolish enough to pursue his living in what we used to call “the private sector.” You were never exactly Giant-Man, more like Average-Sized Man. But you have a vague sense that you’re gonna be a lot closer to Ant-Man by the time all this is through. Noting the president’s assurance that the 250-grand-and-under crowd won’t pay “a single dime” more in taxes, the Wall Street Journal calculated that if you took every single dime — that’s 100 per cent — of the over-250K crowd, it barely begins to pay for this program, even before half of them flee the the country. The $4 trillion Congress is planning on spending next year (2010) could just about be covered if you took every single dime of the taxable income of every American earning over $75,000.
But it doesn’t matter. Because Big Government is the ultimate hero, and the private sector is merely a supporting role. Last week, the president redefined the relationship between the citizen and the state, in ways that make America closer to Europe. If you’ve still got the Webster’s to hand, “closer to Europe” is a sociopolitical colloquialism meaning “much worse.”
Is the new all-powerful Statezilla vulnerable to anything? Unfortunately, yes. He loses all his superpowers when he comes into contact with something called Reality. But happily, Reality is nowhere in sight. There are believed to be some small surviving shards somewhere on the planet — maybe on an uninhabited atoll somewhere in the Pacific — but that’s just a rumor, and Barack Obama isn’t planning on running into Reality any time soon.