Tuesday, January 26, 2010


President Obama is proposing "a three-year freeze in spending on many domestic programs, and for increases no greater than inflation after that," exempting "the Pentagon, foreign aid, the Veterans Administration and homeland security, as well as ... Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security." At Economist's View, Mark Thoma says:

...we get cheap political tricks that are likely to backfire. How will this look, for example, if there's a double dip recession, or if unemployment follows the dismal path that the administration itself has forecast?

How will it look? What a silly question. The president is a Democrat, which means everything he does looks exactly the same -- as if he's a profligate, heedless taxing/spending maniac. Short of abolishing the federal government by executive order and selling the city of Washington for scrap, Obama can't do anything that would change that perception. Democrats are who they are; don't confuse us with actual policies that contradict what we already know.

If the economy recovers, voters will decide they like Obama again, for some reason having to do with his personality or his style or his seeming empathy; if it doesn't, his popularity will go the way of Carter's and Bush's. But either way, the public will never believe Obama was a careful fiscal steward. Our superstitious beliefs about the parties are just too deeply ingrained. Clinton never got credit for deficit hawkery, and Reagan did. That's all you need to know.


UPDATE: In comments, Aimai argues that this isn't going to work politically:

This is going to be like school uniforms in its impact on the overall political debate.

Yeah, but that's just the point -- school uniforms and all the other small-bore things Clinton did to regain his footing after his early troubles actually worked for him. Why? Because, when combined with right-tacking moves like welfare reform and Robert Rubin's deficit policy, they were a signal to the Beltway mandarins: I've been a naughty boy and I know it. I tried to be somewhat of a Democrat. I now understand the error of my ways. You've spanked me, and this is my way of saying "Thank you."

That rightward tack also played well with a public that had never really gotten over its schoolgirl crush on Reaganism (and still hasn't).

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