The president’s sequester strategy is like Howard Beale in “Network”: “Woe is us. . . . And woe is us! We’re in a lot of trouble!”
It is always cliffs, ceilings and looming catastrophes with Barack Obama. It is always government by freakout.
That’s what’s happening now with the daily sequester warnings. Seven hundred thousand children will be dropped from Head Start. Six hundred thousand women and children will be dropped from aid programs. Meat won’t be inspected. Seven thousand TSA workers will be laid off, customs workers too, and air traffic controllers. Lines at airports will be impossible. The Navy will slow down the building of an aircraft carrier. Troop readiness will be disrupted, weapons programs slowed or stalled, civilian contractors stiffed, uniformed first responders cut back. Our nuclear deterrent will be indefinitely suspended. Ha, made that one up, but give them time.
Mr. Obama has finally hit on his own version of national unity: Everyone get scared together.
Obviously the potential budget cuts the administration is announcing—well, not announcing but warning of—are the kind that would cause maximum pain, inconvenience or alarm. Obviously too, the administration doesn’t want to be clear about exactly who might be affected, how or when. Let the imaginative dwell on the extent of the menace; let them do it on cable news.
In a way it’s all brilliant showbiz: Scare people into supporting your position. But we’ve been though it before, and you wonder, again, why a triumphant president and a battered Republican House majority can’t reach a responsible agreement.
And then you remind yourself why. Because Mr. Obama thrives in chaos. He flourishes in unsettled circumstances and grooves on his own calm. He spins an air of calamity, points fingers and garners support. His only opponent is a hapless, hydra-headed House. America has a weakness for winners, and Republicans just now do not look like winners. They have many voices but no real voice, and no one saying anything that makes you stop and think. Mr. Obama, on the other hand, is a singular character who tells you in measured tones that we must have measured answers. Half the country finds his politics to be too much to one side, but his temperament is not extreme and he often looks reasonable. With this gift he ties his foes in knots to get what he wants, which is higher taxes. He wants the rich to pay more and those he judges to be in need to receive more. End of story. Debt and deficits don’t interest him, except to the extent he must give them lip service.
And so far this seems to be working fine for him. A USA Today/Pew Research Center poll out this week reported half the respondents said it will be the Republicans’ fault if the sequester goes through. Only a third said they’d blame the president.
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