Mr. Freeze Panders to the Dodos?

The early reports are that President Obama will call for a three-year spending freeze in his State of the Union address Wednesday. According to Jonathan Zasloff,

The move, intended to blunt the populist backlash against Obama’s $787 billion stimulus and an era of trillion-dollar deficits — and to quell Democratic anxiety over last Tuesday’s Massachusetts Senate election — is projected to save $250 billion, the Democrats said. The freeze would not apply to defense spending or spending on intelligence, homeland security or veterans.

I can’t think of anything more dangerous than making policy decisions based upon polls. Supposedly, Obama would rather be a really good one-term President than a mediocre two-term President. I don’t think so. A spending freeze based upon a “populist backlash” is the action of a President who is willing to pander to critics in order to get reelected.  This is particularly ill advised when the outraged public is so misinformed about the stimulus package it is against.

Times Magazine’s Joe Klein, pulls no punches in a post on the blog “Swampland” called “Too Dumb To Thrive”

Absolutely amazing poll results from CNN today about the $787 stimulus package: nearly three out of four Americans think the money has been wasted. On second thought, they may be right: it’s been wasted on them. Indeed, the largest single item in the package–$288 billion–is tax relief for 95% of the American public. This money is that magical $60 to $80 per month you’ve been finding in your paycheck since last spring. Not a life changing amount, but helpful in paying the bills.  The next highest amount was $275 billion in grants and loans to states. This is why your child’s teacher wasn’t laid off…and why the fire station has remained open, and why you’re not paying even higher state and local taxes to close the local budget hole.

It turns out that what people are really upset about is all that wasteful money that has gone to political public works projects…except that the overwhelming portion of that money hasn’t been spent yet. Remember all those “shovel-ready” projects? Well, they didn’t exist. The big jobs-creating projects like the rebuilt “smart” electric grid, major highways and fast trains will come on line during the next year. (Although these projects might have gotten greater public support if they’d been chosen by a National Infrastructure Bank–a panel of experts, like the fed–that would have picked them according to their value added, rather than by the bozo appropriators in the Congress.)

It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don’t make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you’re a nation of dodos.

A nation of Dodos? It seems to me the real problem is a nation misinformed by a main stream media. It isn’t just Fox news and Rush Limbaugh either. The model of all news programs is to give equal time to extreme partisans more intent on spin than truth. Even when there is an expert on a subject, she or he is “balanced” by a talking head willing to out shout the opposition. The “moderator” makes little or no attempt to correct inaccuracies either out of ignorance or out of a misplaced desire to appear impartial.

One expert that is willing to appear on the main stream media even though he has to endure constant abuse is Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman. Here is his response to a spending freeze.

A spending freeze? That’s the brilliant response of the Obama team to their first serious political setback?

It’s appalling on every level.

It’s bad economics, depressing demand when the economy is still suffering from mass unemployment. Jonathan Zasloff writes that Obama seems to have decided to fire Tim Geithner and replace him with “the rotting corpse of Andrew Mellon” (Mellon was Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, who according to Hoover told him to “liquidate the workers, liquidate the farmers, purge the rottenness”.)

It’s bad long-run fiscal policy, shifting attention away from the essential need to reform health care and focusing on small change instead.

And it’s a betrayal of everything Obama’s supporters thought they were working for. Just like that, Obama has embraced and validated the Republican world-view — and more specifically, he has embraced the policy ideas of the man he defeated in 2008. A correspondent writes, “I feel like an idiot for supporting this guy.”

I think I am too depressed to actually watch the SOTU.


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