Bread and Circuses

06.30.13

The Sprawling, Dimming Age of Obama

The age of Obama, writes Lloyd Green, is mandated health care, crony capitalism, and first-family TV spots as a modern iteration of bread and circuses.

In Barack Obama, America elected a chief executive whose Department of Justice has repeatedly targeted the press, whose Internal Revenue Service has gone gunning for conservatives, and whose government has elevated secrecy into a cardinal virtue. The Obama administration’s data grab is not just about national security or Edward Snowden. It is also an epilogue befitting a candidate who delivered his 2008 convention acceptance speech in front of a temple façade dedicated to himself and whose faith in government and the state is at the center of his presidency.

Under the Obama rules, the unauthorized dissemination of nonclassified government information is now “tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States.” Think Nixonism without the sweaty 5 o’clock shadow; Cheneyism without the dyspepsia, armed with a jump shot instead of a shotgun.

Forget Obama’s paeans to civil liberties. The age of Obama is a celebration of ever-growing and ever-more intrusive government, with mandated health care, crony capitalism, and first-family daytime and late-night television appearances as the modern iterations of bread and circuses.

On Tuesday Obama environmental adviser Daniel Schrag announced to the world that “a war on coal is exactly what’s needed,” only hours before the president rolled out his environmental regulatory scheme that would have the EPA issue more regulations while constraining development of the Keystone XL Pipeline—jobs be damned. Talk about timing! Just a day later, first-quarter GDP growth was revised downward to 1.8 percent.

Having previously been rebuffed by Congress over a carbon tax, the president didn’t propose anything to Congress this time. He simply announced what his executive branch would do unilaterally.

Still, the administration’s candor about its use of executive fiat to attain that which could not be gained through legislation stands in marked contrast to the obfuscation surrounding the government’s surveillance efforts. That was also vintage Obama, insofar as it was one more attempt to expand government’s reach—in the name of a greater good.

And what does Obama get in return for his push for big government? A government that loves him back. Unlike the financial, insurance, and real estate industries that have been fickle about him—showering him with hosannas and cash in 2008 and then offering a relative trickle of support in 2012—Obama remains the living end for government workers.

IRS employees donated to Obama over Romney by a 4–1 ratio, IRS attorneys favored Obama by 20 to 1, and government lawyers at the National Labor Relations Board and the Department of Education shut out the Romney campaign completely. The federal bureaucracy had effectively lined up against nearly half the country.

Meanwhile, the White House press secretary dissembles daily, the intelligence community appears incapable of delivering a complete and truthful answer to Congress, and IRS employees apparently enjoyed a giant taxpayer-funded party catered by Wolfgang Puck.

Given this totality, public distrust of Washington should come as no surprise.

For the record, spending $2.4 million on an Olympics-themed confab, complete with an open bar, while America’s housing market was crashing is not prudent. Using credit cards to buy bottles of wine and $140 dinners is not what we want from the IRS’s green-eyeshade brigade. Trust, what’s that?

According to a recent Quinnipiac Poll, 47 percent of Americans trust the government only some of the time, and 36 percent hardly ever trust it. CNN reports that 50 percent of those surveyed answered that the words “honest and trustworthy” do not describe the president, and Obama’s disapproval numbers have outpaced his positives for nearly all of June, according to RealClearPolitics.

The federal bureaucracy had effectively lined up against nearly half the country.

Without his credibility, Obama is lost. Preachy and divisive doesn’t get you a whole lot of friends—just ask Jimmy Carter. And no one is confusing Obama with Bill Clinton, who knew how to maneuver—or, if one prefers, how to pander. Bill was Hillary’s and the GOP’s problem, not the nation’s.

Obama has fallen, but the question is how far? Pop culture may shed a clue or two. Yes, Beyoncé and Adele have agreed to sing at Michelle Obama’s birthday party, but it is Mick Jagger who told the truth. The other night at D.C.’s Verizon Center, the Stones frontman quipped, “I don’t think President Obama is here tonight ... But I’m sure he’s listening in.”

Sadly, Obama appears more than comfortable with a strong government and a weak America. Although four years have passed since the Great Recession technically ended, employment has yet to regain its prerecession peak. The lag in jobs has been matched by a lack of new investments. According to The Wall Street Journal, “total venture capital invested in the U.S. fell nearly 10 percent last year and has yet to return to its pre-recession peak.” However, the White House appears content to live with this dismal version of the “new” normal, one where all but the wealthiest struggle and the American Dream is a campaign cliché or a fading memory.

To add to his woes, the president is repeatedly stiff-armed, both at home and abroad. Congress defies him at no cost. Try as he may, Obama cannot even get a gun bill out of the Democratic-controlled Senate, let alone the House. The Supreme Court hands the government’s lawyers repeated defeats, and Russia and China openly mock him.

The fugitive Snowden was allowed to leave Hong Kong and fly freely to Russia. Adding insult to irony, Vladimir Putin has ruled out his extradition. If the Cold War is back, then as Michael Goodwin of the New York Post wrote, “my money is on Putin.”

So here Obama is, craving security and adulation, but being denied both. He speaks aloud, but is frequently ignored. With more than two years left in his term, the resident is more a creature of history than a driver of reality. As he is learning the hard way, standing in front of ersatz Greek columns doesn’t make you a deity, and Capitol Hill isn’t Mount Olympus.