Scope of Obama’s Policy Trifecta Commands Respect, But Will Deliver the Leviathan State
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The scope of President Obama’s public-policy offensive commands respect. When he spoke admiringly four years ago of Ronald Reagan as “a transformative president,” he must have been sincere, though he clearly disagreed with much of the transformation. And Mr. Obama certainly deserves the same courtesy from those of us who are appalled at what he is trying to do to the country.
I commented here several weeks ago on the State of the Union address, which was largely on the cusp between mendacity and delusion, as it flippantly passed over the deficit and claimed that those who doubted that American prestige was rising in the world didn’t “know what they are talking about.”
Last week, the attempted imposition on Roman Catholic institutions of the cost of insuring employees for the provision of birth control, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs was an unavoidable subject for this column. I do not whitewash the problems the Roman Catholic Church has brought upon itself by cleaving to a counsel of perfection on birth control that its own bishops have assured coreligionists is not an issue that separates them from their Church. The Holy See was asking for trouble and has not failed to attract it.
But the administration was spoiling for a fight and provoked one, using its proxies in the feminist movement and in organized labor to bait and enervate the Catholic episcopate before the main event began. Planned Parenthood, the billion-dollar-a-year, equal-opportunity, no-fault, anti-choice abortion facilitator, and the Service Employees International Union are elements of the Coalition to Protect Women’s Health Care, which, like picadors in a bullfight, are harrying and distracting the Roman Catholic leadership. “We will mobilize our base and we will outnumber the other side,” the president of the ultra-feminist organization EMILY’s List, Stephanie Schriock, eagerly told the New York Times on February 16. The Roman Catholic bishops were clearly judged by the rampaging Boadiceas around Obama to be a spavined, dimming, superannuated bull that would blunderingly deliver its head and lungs to the sword of the matador-president.
Whether they outnumber the other side will depend on how well the counterargument is made. Birth control is not a health issue at all; pregnancy is not a disease or an illness and termination of it is not a cure to a medical problem. Couching it in these terms is an assault on all those who believe in any notion of spirituality, the sanctity of life even as a conditional concept and not an inflexible rule, or in any position for ecclesiastical moral leadership. It is, to boot, an assault on the constitutional rights guaranteed to religious practice in the First Amendment. And there must be a fighting chance that this Supreme Court would defend the First Amendment more vigorously than it has the Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth, whose virtual demise it has magisterially overlooked.
There is no question that the great majority of Americans favor accessible contraception (probably, so do most of the Catholic clergy). And early polls show that a slight majority of Catholics favor obligatory insurance of contraception to employees even of Catholic institutions. But the consequences of such a step in respect of abortion and sterilization and the constitutional implications of it have not sunk in.
The Pearl Harbor nature of the move and the unholy alliance between the government and the most abrasive groups in the abortion coalition could cause the administration problems. And even if the majority sticks with the administration, since these are groups that were in its pocket anyway, any slippage in moderate opinion could be decisive.
The abortion tigresses have still not recovered from the collapse of their immense preponderance of public-opinion support in the abortion debate thanks to the eloquent witness of John Paul II, and also to the rise of ultrasound technology that brought people face to face with the human beings in the womb, including as they tried desperately to avoid the abortionist’s vacuum. The bishops always seem a bit stolid, but the Jarretts and Wasserman Schultzes could grate on the country’s nerves quite severely and very soon. They are always overconfident, and get in the face of the undecided.
This should be a ding-dong battle, but before the first round was over, Mr. Obama delivered his budget. This time the beaters and accompanists were not screeching women but history’s wealthiest useful idiot (in political matters), Warren Buffett, the apotheosis of that unique American phenomenon, the very rich know-it-all: Henry Ford, Cyrus Eaton, Armand Hammer redux ad infinitum (et nauseam).
The budget opens up another front in Obama’s program to transform America, both tactically and substantively. Tactically, it torques up his campaign to run as the candidate of the 97%, the virtuous, against the 3% of “rich” freeloaders (never mind that a family of four earning $250,000 with two children in private schools is lucky to have a thousand dollars over at the end of the year after paying only essential expenses — which is why most of them are in debt). The 3% the president is targeting pay more taxes than the other 97 he claims to be defending.
There is a legitimate concern about wealth distribution in the United States, but the answer is not to scapegoat any individual who makes over $200,000 per year and to try to sell the fraud that the government can equitably take the money of those who have earned it and give it to those who haven’t. The answer is to fight unemployment, by workfare rebuilding infrastructure as in the Thirties and Fifties, if necessary; to stop encouraging the people to spend every cent they can make or borrow and to incentivize saving and investment; and to narrow the deficit with credible expense reductions, especially entitlement reform, and taxes on elective spending and not income.
What we have instead is the designation of America’s 10 million most economically productive people as official enemies, and an assault upon them, which will produce, at best, a tokenistic revenue increase. The president tarts this up now as a budget-balancer behind defense-spending reductions that his defense secretary, the capable political plough-horse Leon Panetta, says will not happen, and behind GDP-growth predictions of 3% to 4.1% that are a pure exercise in imaginative gymnastics. Obama is the author of the unheard-of profligacy of $5 trillion of new publicly held federal debt in one term, increasing it as a percentage of GDP from under 50% to about 80%.
Since the administration has not lifted a finger even to pretend to reduce the deficit, it incites the inference that it has deliberately avoided preventive action in order to ensure that the country’s fiscal deterioration makes an assault on the designated wealthy in an election year a mob-pleasing winner. Hence, we are to have 100% increases in taxes on capital gains and dividends, almost a 30% increase in estate taxes, the end of the payroll-tax reduction, and a “global minimum tax” (unspecified, but we should fear the worst). As if to highlight the trend, General Motors, celebrating the largest profit in its history — after the government disposed of decades of retained expenses and all previous equity, and the taxpayers generously refinanced the company for the benefit of its new owners, the United Auto Workers — distributed $7,000 cash bonuses to all 47,500 unionized workers in the U.S. while cutting benefits to the approximately 15,000 non-union employees.
This all ties in neatly with the donkey kick in the face of the Roman Catholic Church: a gratuitous, nonsensical measure which will be raw meat for the screaming feminists and provide the whole Obama coalition with the inspiriting divertissement of baiting their ancient and now supposedly helpless foe.
Obama’s 2012 campign will be a trifecta: First, it will seek to replace the traditional American ideal of individualist self-help with a permanent majority of takers — the public sector and entitlement recipients and their clerical helpers in the professions, all riveted on the backs of those who actually add value. Second, by misrepresenting contraception as a health issue and hiding abortion behind it, and unleashing the feminist ravers as the shock troops against the religious denominations to shred the First Amendment, it will propose a giant step in the complete emasculation of any independent religious moral authority, or any institutional dissent from the absolute moral fiat of the federal state. Third, it will try to solidify the power of an administration that on its merits should be sent packing, bag and baggage.
If it succeeds, it will be the supreme triumph of what the pope calls “militant secularism,” and of a vision of dialectical materialism: the culmination of the career of Jeremiah Wright’s happy congregant of 20 years, and of Bill Ayers’s co-social-animator misdirecting Walter Annenberg’s generosity. One can only admire the scale of Mr. Obama’s ambition and the ingenuity of his tactical plan. He held his fire until very late and is taking full advantage of the weakness of the Republican candidates. If the country buys it in November, it will be a disaster that will be repealed in four years, but they will be fearful years. America will temporarily cease to be America and will partially succumb to the liberal death wish, like an overdose victim going into a semi-coma, just as there are signs that Europe may, under German ministrations, be starting to recover from that condition.
— Conrad Black can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column first appeared in the National Review.