Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mission Accomplished?

I didn't see the point of Obama's speech about the "end of the combat mission in Iraq". It struck me as a junior partner to Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished!" speech on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier.

I'm not the only one to think that Obama has missed a great historical occasion by doing too little too late. Here's a bit from a Martin Wolf article in the FT:
Suppose that the US presidential election of 1932 had, in fact, taken place in 1930, at an early stage in the Great Depression. Suppose, too, that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had won then, though not by the landslide of 1932. How different subsequent events might have been. The president might have watched helplessly as output and employment collapsed. The decades of Democratic dominance might not have happened.

On such chances the wheel of history turns. But this time was different: the crisis brought Barack Obama to power close to the beginning of the economic collapse. I (among others) then argued that policy needed to be hugely aggressive. Alas, it was not. I noted on February 4 2009, at the beginning of the new presidency: “Instead of an overwhelming fiscal stimulus, what is emerging is too small, too wasteful and too ill-focused.” A week later, I asked: “Has Barack Obama’s presidency already failed? In normal times, this would be a ludicrous question. But these are not normal times. They are times of great danger. Today, the new US administration can disown responsibility for its inheritance; tomorrow, it will own it. Today, it can offer solutions; tomorrow it will have become the problem. Today, it is in control of events; tomorrow, events will take control of it. Doing too little is now far riskier than doing too much.” This was right.
While Bush and Obama are look alike twins in giving foolish speeches to celebrate non-events, they differ in fundamentals. Bush was a man in way over his head and didn't understand issues or history. But he was fearless and foolish. Obama is a smart cookie, but he is far too cautious and conservative. The times demand bold moves, radical changes in direction, new hope being given. But Obama is timid and takes baby steps.

Sadly, I agree with Martin Wolf's conclusion:
So what is going to happen? I assume that, after the midterm elections, resurgent Republicans will offer new tax cuts and ignore the fiscal deficits. They will pretend that this has nothing to do with any reviled stimulus, though it is much the same thing – increasing fiscal deficits, thereby offsetting private frugality. That would put the administration on the spot. It would have to choose between vetoing the tax cuts and accepting them, so allowing the Republicans to get the credit for their “yacht and mansion-led” recovery. Any recovery is better than none. But it could have been much better than this. Those who were cautious when they should have been bold will pay a big price.

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