Neither/nor

No, Barack Obama is neither Secretary Mellon nor P.T. Barnum.

A reader expert in these matters doesn’t think that Barack Obama is either P.T. Barnum or Secretary Mellon:

The “freeze”  (really a cap, as Mark has noted) is important beyond symbolism, not so much for overall budget deficit reduction but to get some discipline over spending.  A few years back progressives mounted a campaign to reform farm subsidies in the farm bill – important for agriculture development in poor countries as well as domestic equity  and environmental concerns in addition to budget – but the whole effort collapsed because there was no budget constraint on the Ag committees.  If a cap had been in place, reform would have been much more likely to succeed.  This is part of an effort to put budget discipline back in the political system.

A meta-comment:  I find it striking how eager some of my friends are to make Barack Obama the scapegoat.  The willingness of progressives to believe the worst about our leaders when we hit a rough patch is not among our strengths. If the worst thing Obama ever does is use a poll-tested word like “freeze” where it isn’t strictly appropriate, he’ll be the most saintly President of the 44.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

3 thoughts on “Neither/nor”

  1. There are three issues that have disturbed those of us who have seen the preliminary language on freeze and worry about how it will play out in the speech and media:

    1. Endorsement of the Republican frame that deficits now are the problem. It may well be that the freeze begins from the post-stimulus base and doesn't kick in until after Obama believes recovery will be well underway, but if the speech does not make clear that in the short run, stimulus and deficits were and are critical to getting unemployment down and putting the great recession behind us and that getting the govt's revenues and spending in balance is an issue once recovery is fully established, then the speech is a failure. It will validates the right's attacks on the stimulus as ineffective and unnecessary, a "failure," and negate opportunities for Democratic economic policies to get credit for preventing more serious harm.

    2. Regardless of what is said about the timing, just calling for a freeze sometime may prevent pursuing further jobs/stimulus programs in the short run.

    3. It implicitly assumes that domestic nonentitlement spending is at the right level.

  2. Of course, using the word "freeze" is nowhere near the worst thing Obama has done – Guantanamo still open, no torture prosecutions, no effort to pass real healthcare reform, still in Iraq & Afghanistan, no banking reform, …

    Saying "freeze" when you mean "cap": yeah, that's right up there.

  3. Didn't read MCD before writing the following. Count me in with him or her:

    "The willingness of progressives to believe the worst about our leaders when we hit a rough patch is not among our strengths. If the worst thing Obama ever does is use a poll-tested word like “freeze” where it isn’t strictly appropriate, he’ll be the most saintly President of the 44."

    Leaders we have no trouble with, whether we win or lose with them, as long as they lead. Barack Obama is not a leader by any stretch of the imagination.

    And his idiotic use of "freeze" doesn't come close to being the worst thing he has ever done, but it is the cherry on top of a sh*t sundae consisting of Guantanamo, "look ahead, not behind", DADT, EFCA, Telecom immunity, Afghanistan, and all around fecklessness on health care. Other than that, it's all good. Obama is beginning to remind me of the marginal player who starts on the prep school basketball team because of all the money his family has given the school over the years while a better player sits. I don't know who that better player would be. But I'm willing to bet she (no, not her) is out there somewhere.

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