USA: NYTimes misses the point on Mass. election

NYTimes Editorial misses the point in advice to Obama.  Source: cdn.necn.com
NYTimes Editorial misses the point in advice to Obama. Source: cdn.necn.com

The New York Times published an editorial yesterday analyzing the Republican win in Massachusetts this week and offering advice to President Obama. 

I’m not sure why the “gray lady” of American journalism is joining the chorus in this country calling for populist policies as a result of the Massachusetts election — sticking it to the banks now that they’re recovering, bailing out people in foreclosed homes, increasing the fiscal stimulus to fight joblessness.  Maybe the New York Times is feeling the pinch from the blogosphere, and especially from such liberal upstarts as the Huffington Post.  Consequently, the editorial board feels a need to draft highly partisan and unsound editorials — to get more people to read the Times web page.

The Editorial asserts that the Mass. election was not a referendum on Obama or health care, but a clamoring from ordinary Americans for policies that will help them keep their jobs and homes.  One way to interpret it. 

Another way is that American voters understand better than most politicians and editorial boards that an America that sticks to its knitting — by following policies that maintain a strong economy, sound public finances, and a healthy banking system — will be an America that remains in control of its destiny.  Most Americans have to balance expenses against income at the proverbial kitchentable; so, perhaps these Americans understand the importance of fiscal rectitude, at least ever since the value of their homes collapsed over a year ago.  An America in which the government continues to bail everyone out — by expanding health care entitlement and foreclosure relief — will be an America that will lose control of its destiny.  Eventually, the financial markets would punish American assets, with the USA possibly losing its AAA credit rating.  Then, the capacity of the American government to spend on things that matter in the future would be compromised, and with it, America’s standing in the world, and with that, the liberal international institutions and world order America crafted so well at the end of WWII.  That is what is at stake. 

It’s hard to get inside the heads of two million plus Massachusetts voters, but perhaps at some level they understood this.  Health care reform that expands the government’s liabilities is unsound right now, however fair it is in the long run.  Doing health care reform today is like refurnishing the interior of your home when you’re running out of money.  The old sofa is tattered, yet functional.  When you are in better times, that is the time to replace the old sofa.  Bailing out banks was the right thing to do, however unfair that was, because it avoided a collapse of the financial system.  That’s like repairing the leaky roof on your house.  There were no lines of people down the street in front of closed banks waiting to withdraw their deposits the way there were in the Great Depression.  Bailing out homeowners and the unemployed, however fair, is not fiscally prudent right now.  Independent voters in Massachusetts perhaps understood this better than Harry Reid, Speaker Pelosi, the arrogant people advising the president, and the president himself.  And…the Times Editorial board.  Robert Gibbs, the president’s press secretary, actually had the hubris to suggest, hours before the Democratic defeat in Massachusetts, that perhaps Americans didn’t understand the benefits of the health care reform on Capitol Hill.  In short, the White House believes that Americans do not know what is best for them. 

The Times board argued that health care reform is essential to an improving economy.  In medicine, a patient may have several ailments — but better to cure the cancer killing him and treat the mild cold later on, no?  America’s ailment right now is its skyrocketing government debt, to reach 90% of GDP this year.  Fixing health care can wait.  It won’t improve the economy now.  Righting our fiscal ship will.

The Times editors joined the chorus of demagogues with scurrilous attacks on Obama’s economic team, read: Timothy Geithner.  The Obama economic team is “entwined with the people and policies that nearly destroyed the economy.”  Geithner-Bernanke-Paulson-Summers quite simply saved the planet.  Sure, during the go-go period earlier this decade, could our regulators and central bankers have been more prudent?  Yes.  Excessively low interest rates for too long were the main cause of the real estate bubble; if you want to blame one person more than others — and you shouldn’t — blame Sir Alan Greenspan…and perhaps Ayn Rand.  Sure, Bernanke and Geithner were there too and should share some of the blame.  But that doesn’t mean firing them.  It sounds to me a bit like the French Revolution, when everyone eventually got the guillotine, even Danton.  The Gray Lady has turned Jacobin in her desperate lurch to retain readers.

The Times editors likewise suggest that Obama should understand the Scott Brown phenomenon well — a handsome, inexperienced guy comes out of nowhere to obtain high office.  I agree.  But they go on to attribute Obama’s election in 2008 to his vision.  I’m not convinced.  Obama got elected by incessantly denigrating George W. Bush (so it is a wonder to me that the former president was willing to show up at the White House this week to help Obama on Haiti) and by incessantly calling for a full withdrawal from Iraq and an end to the “surge.”  Then, the financial collapse in the fall of 2008 sealed the deal for a Democratic victory (“throw the rascals out”).  Once in office, Obama’s “vision” was to extend Bush’s rescue of the banks and his fiscal stimulus and to apply the Iraqi surge to Afghanistan.  Yes, you can call this vision, but it was W’s vision, not Barack’s.

So, the Times editors, in offering advice to the president, have joined the chorus of irresponsible populists, who seem set to dominate the discourse through the November 2010 midterm elections.  My advice to the president — work diligently at restoring America’s fiscal health, the critical foundation of American power, however unpopular — damn the torpedoes.  And, you may be surprised that this could get you re-elected.

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