Obama’s Bizarre Moves to the Right

Earlier this morning, I tweeted: “Someone needs to tell Obama that he’s allowed to break McCain’s campaign promises.”

John McCain proposed an excise tax on health care benefits as a means of paying for health care reform legislation. Obama campaigned against this. And yet, the current health care legislation in the Senate and the version supported by the President include taxes on health care benefits. In some cases, this tax may hit CEOs’ plans that include coverage for plastic surgery. But most of the time, the excise tax will hurt working, middle class Americans who have collectively bargained for health care benefits in lieu of wages. Coincidentally, Obama also pledged no tax increases on the American middle class.

To put this a different way, Obama is going to look a lot like George H.W. Bush who campaigned on a pledge of no new taxes (if you read his lips), but did increase taxes anyway.

John McCain also campaigned on a federal spending freeze in response to the economic crisis. Obama, wisely, opposed McCain’s proposed spending freeze.  And now we see Obama proposing a three year spending freeze on discretionary spending. Naturally it will be more limited in scope than what McCain proposed, but that doesn’t make the idea any better.

Stopping federal spending growth during an economic crisis is a tried and true recipe for prolonged economic crisis. The most natural comparison and the one that Obama will most likely seen his move drawn to is Herbert Hoover. But Jed Lewison points out that FDR made the same mistake — and it is universally regarded as a mistake — of cutting federal stimulus programs and thus crashing the US economy again.

I don’t know why Obama thinks pulling out John McCain’s playbook is a good idea. Nor do I get why Obama and his administration think replaying the moves of George H.W. Bush and Herbert Hoover, two one-term Republican presidents, is a good idea. Because from where I sit, these moves make zero sense from either a policy sense or a political sense. And if I look really closely, it looks like Obama is triangulating against the Democratic base in an effort to prove that liberal ideas, Democratic ideas are bad during times of crisis. And thus a three year spending freeze doesn’t look that different from a three year freeze on the Obama administration identifying itself as Democratic.

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