My vehement post yesterday about Obama's indifference to crippling long-term debt has been viewed in some corners as my breaking up with my latest political crush. I hate to disappoint my friends on the right and left, but strong criticism of a president does not mean abandonment. Obama remains, in my view, the best chance we've had in a long time to address our real problems in a civil and constructive way. That's why he mattered and still matters. My post reflects a crushing disappointment in his fiscal unseriousness, while acknowledging its short-term political canniness.
My belief in balanced budgets and living within one's means is deeply entrenched. I attacked my idol Reagan over it; I gushed over Perot on that count (about the only one); I backed Bill Clinton's first, Eisenhower-style budget; I praised the Gingrich-Clinton surplus. But, from the get-go, I went after George W. Bush on fiscal matters and his indifference to deficit spending (unlike most of the Tea Partiers). I went ballistic over Medicare D and unfunded wars. I have been relentless in skepticism toward the Tea Party's alleged fiscal credentials. So why would it in any way be surprising that I would treat Obama the same way? I gave him leeway in the first two years because cutting spending in such a recession would not have helped. In my post yesterday, I support his distinction between investment and mere spending.
But he was elected to provide change we can believe in. In the biggest domestic challenge – America's compounding bankruptcy – he has offered denial and politics.
And it is not as if I haven't challenged him elsewhere – on Afghanistan, on DADT repeal, on defending DOMA, and on Israel/Palestine, where he has gotten nowhere slowly and where Netanyahu has simply run rings around him. (The latest Obama capitulation to West Bank settlers is here.) There are, moreover, very few now on the right with any more fiscal cred, although it's encouraging to see Coburn and Daniels tell some hard truths. I remain skeptical of Paul Ryan, but if he comes through with a budget with serious longterm entitlement and defense cuts, I'll look again.
Maybe this is the first move in a very smart long game toward a Grand Bargain. If it is, I'll be as supportive of Obama as I was eventually on DADT repeal. But I have to judge what I see according to my principles. As a fiscal conservative, I think Obama is failing the test of history. But I sure haven't given up on him as a president yet.