There is good reason that the Soviet Union's newspaper was called Pravda (Truth), that George Orwell's 1984 had a Ministry of Truth, and that military academies have honor codes. Leadership requires that followers trust the leaders. Barack Obama beware.
When Obama was first discovered by the main stream media and the masses, he was given a pass. Tony Rezko was just a guy next door with whom he did a small real estate deal; for twenty years he didn't pay much attention to his "crazy uncle", the Reverend Wright; the bomb-throwing Bill Ayers was "just a guy in the neighborhood". His personal history - without transcripts, a birth certificate, or sources of support - should be taken as he wrote it. OK for round one - he was a charming guy with a charming story.
Phase II can be forgiven as political rhetoric. Of course nobody thinks that we can actually provide health care for 30 million people without anybody paying for it; of course you couldn't really expect him to eliminate lobbyists, earmarks, and back room deals; of course the stimulus plan couldn't really have been expected to get the economy going; of course we'll be fiscally responsible once we spend our way out of Bush's recession. We can fix the problems once we get the big bills through.
Then came Congressman Joe Wilson and Justice Sam Alito with the message that the emperor has no clothes. When Wilson cried out "you lie!" during an address to Congress, he was improper and factually wrong. He reacted to Obama's claim that health care coverage would not be extended to illegal immigrants. That is not in the House and Senate bills - a gap left to be fixed by immigration reform.
But when Supreme Court Justice Alito mouthed "not true" during the State of the Union, it is Obama who was improper and factually wrong. Obama must have known that he was on the edge of propriety in criticizing a Supreme Court decision in this forum, and that the "free speech" decision did not apply to foreign corporations as Obama claimed. It was a good applause line and he has a base to energize, but he did knowingly lie.
But one's reputation for honesty is a precious commodity - particularly in a large country where most people do not know the president personally - and Obama has lost it. A recent Rasmussen poll shows that a strong majority of voters do not believe Obama's claims that he has cut taxes for 95% of Americans, that he has started the economy growing, and that he has put 2,000,000 people to work. And he is asking these people to ignore the Congressional Budget Office and believe that his financial plans will somehow lead to fiscal stability. Fool me once, shame on you - fool me twice, shame on me. While the speech gave a bump to Obama's approval with his base, the "strongly disapprove" among independents moved from 42% to 50%.
Another resource squandered.
This week's You Tube is an interview with Douglas Elmendorf, the geekish and honest Director of the Congressional Budget Office, discussing the 2010 federal budget projections for the next decade. The key question (at minute 2:00) from the Bloomberg reporters - is there any plan to do anything to fix it? Nope.
Next week we'll try to make some sense out of the prospect for a jobs recovery - short term and long term. I'm trying hard to conjure up some optimism.
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bill bowen - 2/5/10