The Programmed President

Barack Obama told Congress that Washington “can help. We can make a difference. There are steps we can take right now to improve people’s lives.”

Even Washington doesn’t believe him.

Thursday’s not-ready-for-primetime speech by the not-ready-for-primetime president was a forceful case for stupidity, which by definition amounts to doing the same thing and expecting different results. The stimulus failed to stimulate. The answer, so obvious to the backers of the original stimulus, is more stimulus. Only in the bizarro world of liberalism is a program’s inefficacy considered a compelling argument to expand that program.

A jobs program is an oxymoron. The government can remove money (and thus jobs) from the private economy. But to infuse money into the private economy, the government must first take it out—in taxes, loans, or inflation. In the tradition of the Recovery Act (which helped push us further into recession) and the Affordable Care Act (which made medicine more expensive), the American Jobs Act will kill jobs.

Milton Friedman famously wrote that “the only relevant test of the validity of a hypothesis is comparison of its predictions with experience.” The Obama administration infamously prophesied that failure to pass the original stimulus would send the unemployment rate above eight percent. It ultimately eclipsed ten percent, and has remained above nine percent for all but a few months of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Reality is a rude affront to grand ideas.

Friedman, one of the Blue Collar Intellectuals included in my forthcoming book, waited tables, sold fireworks by the roadside, and peddled encyclopedias door-to-door before winning a Nobel Prize in economics. Obama collected signatures for Ralph Nader’s NYPIRG and taught in a law school before becoming president. Notice a difference?

The real world grounds ideas. Ideological fantasies send minds into the ether.

People armed with programs have usually been programmed. What they lack in ideas they make up in ideology. Ideologues don’t think. Their ideologies do this for them. Like a robot, the ideologue’s mental circuits overheat when confronted with a situation he hasn’t been programmed for.

It may seem strange that a man with so many plans doesn’t have a plan B. The ideologue is so confident in the path that he doesn’t consider the need for an alternate route. Bill Clinton, a politician, successfully pivoted after his 1994 midterm election debacle. Even Lenin introduced his market-oriented New Economic Program after a more pure Communism failed so horribly. But more than two years after his stimulus-turned-sedative, Barack Obama is back with more of the same. Halftime adjustments, adapting to overcome, responding to the unpredictability of events—this is foreign to the makeup of the programmed presidency.

The proposal of a second stimulus is a tacit admission that the first stimulus failed. So is the president’s deliberate refusal to call the second stimulus a “stimulus,” a word conspicuously missing from his speech. The term is so associated with failure in the minds of voters that the president doesn’t use it anymore.

The programmed president can change labels. He seems incapable of altering substance.

More than a dozen times during his speech to Congress, President Obama implored some variant of “pass this jobs bill.” At least a used car salesman shows you the product before strong-arming you into buying it. When he demanded, “pass this bill right away,” there wasn’t a bill to be passed. Not until after the speech did the public even learn of the price tag: $450 billion.

One man’s plan for an economy with 312 million moving parts is an exercise in narcissism. The government needs to get out of the economy’s way. But an economy organically healing itself just isn’t within the vision of visionaries. It seems a slur against their genius. So planners plan and people suffer—providing the planners justification for future plans.

From the Troubled Asset Relief Program to the Affordable Care Act to the American Jobs Act, the economy has struggled under the weight of programs. The planner has a program for every problem. The planner fails to see the problems from every program.   

Offering a scaled-down stimulus so soon after the stimulus-on-steroids flamed out demonstrates that liberalism is more bankrupt than the federal government. America needs a president who can think outside of the teleprompter.