Steve-O-in NJ, commenting on the post about President Obama’s weak response to the invasion of the Ukraine by an emboldened Russia. raises the broader ethical point of America’s duty to be militarily strong, one of the persistent areas of disagreement between liberals and conservatives, and one area where the right has it right, and the left is out in left field. It should be noted, however, that this problem is a direct consequence of the even greater one hanging over us: the relentlessly expanding National Debt, and the irresponsible lack of political courage and resolve to do anything about it other than let it get worse. This was most recently demonstrated by what we have learned about the President’s new budget proposal, which raised the ethical question, “Did Obama ever mean what he said about entitlement reform and serious debt reduction?”
Wrote Washington Post editorial chief Fred Hiatt—a liberal Democrat, like virtually all of his colleagues— last week:
It’s a relatively small thing, really, a fix to the calculation of cost-of-living benefits that would have helped save Social Security. But President Obama’s decision to drop the reform from his proposed budget hints at a bigger question: What does he believe in enough to really fight for?
To hear him in 2009, you would have thought that safeguarding Social Security was one such goal. “To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security,” he said. In 2010, he was even more determined: “Now, even after paying for what we spent on my watch, we’ll still face the massive deficit we had when I took office. More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will continue to skyrocket. . . . I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans.” Now the winds have shifted — his party wants to woo older voters by promising richer benefits, not reform — and Obama has moved on, too. Someone else will have to fix Social Security.
His turnabout on foreign policy has been even more dizzying. Three years ago, he was promising to support democracy movements throughout the Middle East and protect their advocates from government violence.
Hiatt, whom I generally respect, seems to be uncharacteristically slow on the uptake here. Many of us figured out way back in 2008 that Obama was a politician who would use whatever soaring rhetoric he thought would please the maximum number of voters, and that he had no idea how or whether to make his words reality….and does not yet. Meanwhile, the Post’s fairest and most astute conservative pundit, Robert Samuelson, explained why Obama’s inaction on entitlements guarantees weakness in the world:
We are spending more and getting less, and — unless present trends are reversed — this will continue for years. It threatens the end of government as we know it.
The cause is no mystery. An aging population and higher health spending automatically increase budget outlays, which induce the president and Congress to curb spending on almost everything else, from defense to food stamps. Over the next decade, all the government’s projected program growth stems from Social Security and health care, including the Affordable Care Act. By 2024, everything else will represent only 7.4 percent of national income (gross domestic product), the lowest share since at least 1940, says Douglas Elmendorf, head of the Congressional Budget Office.
This is the central budget story, and it’s largely missed — or ignored — by political leaders, the media, political scientists and the public. The welfare state is taking over government. It’s strangling government’s ability to respond to other national problems and priorities, because the constituencies for welfare benefits, led by Social Security’s 57 million, are more numerous and powerful than their competitors for federal support. Politicians of both parties are loath to challenge these large, expectant and generally sympathetic groups.
With this as the depressing backdrop, here is Steve O’s excellent Comment of the Day on the post, It’s Time To Play The Exciting New Broadcast Media Ethics Game, “Biased, Lazy, or Incompetent!”:
It does not help that Obama said from the beginning that military action was “off the table,” so the worst Putin has to face from him is language and maybe we won’t attend the G8 in Russia, which means not a damn thing. The US may well not be willing to go to war over this, and it might well not be in our best interests to do so, but there’s no reason to tell Putin that from the get-go and take the big stick out of sight. If I were president I’d raise the alert status of our forces in Europe and send the 6th Fleet steaming east, with some rhetoric about being prepared to help the Ukrainian people keep their nation and their sovereignty. I might not actually intend to intervene, but Putin doesn’t need to know that, and the sight of American flattops might give him pause.
As it is, we look weaker than we did when Russian tanks rolled over Free Hungary and froze the Prague Spring before it could go anywhere. Couple this with the recent announcement of shrinking the military to the smallest level since before World War II, and I submit it’s not entirely out of line to ask whether or not the current administration is looking to significantly damage this nation’s military capability the way Frank Church trashed our intelligence capability 30-some-odd years ago.
I was only just out of college when the Cold War started to thaw, but I’d certainly spent enough time studying it and seeing its impact to know now that we had a classic tension between morality and ethics then as we do now. Oh, I read the US Bishops’ pastoral letter on the immorality of strategic weapons and the articles that talked about how moral it would be if the US led the way in disarming by doing so unilaterally. I also remember the out-and-out cowardice of the chattering classes when Reagan walked away from the table in Reykjavik and their mocking of the strategic defense initiative as “Star Wars.” The bottom line is that peace may be moral and desirable, and that the image of the lamb lying down with the lion might be nice, but national weakness was bad policy and bad ethics then, and it’s bad policy and bad ethics now. We stumbled pretty badly in the Cold War with Carter’s feckless and incompetent peace-with-everyone, Vietnam-is-over approach and we’re lucky we had Reagan to make it right. Who will make this right? Obama lost most of his credibility in Syria, the rest is about to go.
Just a thought – they say history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. Would I be out of line to say this time out the farce came first with Jimmy Carter’s feckless bumbling, while the real tragedy is going to be now, where Obama promised a future of hope, but led the US into a decline it probably won’t come out of?