Snapshot Commentaries — 18 February 2013

Much has gone on in the last week, and there is much to comment upon.  Rather than do an in-depth discussion of any one  item, I’ll try to give something more than a soundbite to several topics.  

To start, I’ll take the unusual tack of praising something President Obama said.  Last Friday, he was in Chicago, addressing the epidemic of gun violence that has plagued the poorer neighborhoods of our fair city.  And while he said what you would expect about gun control, he also said, importantly, that a key factor in the collapse of civilized norms in Chicago’s West Side and South Side is the absence of fathers.

Citing his own experience as a child growing up without a father present, he acknowledged the gap that that absence creates.  “There’s no more important ingredient for success, nothing that would be more important for reducing violence, than strong, stable families,” Mr. Obama said, “which means we should do more to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood.”  

Granted, much of what Obama wants to do is in the way of more government programs to encourage fathers to stick around, when a big step would be to restructure existing programs that positively encourage fathers to disappear, or mothers to have their babies alone.  But at least he touched on the key issue.  “This is not just a gun issue,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s also an issue of the kinds of communities that we’re building.”  Hallelujah.

But the plaudits stop there.  There is so much else that the President has said and done over the last week that makes me just roll my eyes.  For instance, raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00.  This is a classic in the liberal library of ideas that are great on the surface and do serious damage in reality.

The simplistic view is that if people made a higher wage, they would have more money to spend, which in turn would make the economy grow faster.  The wage-earner would be able to afford more stuff, the business owners would sell more goods, they would hire more people earning that higher minimum wage, and a virtuous circle would begin.

Virtually no professional economist – even among those of a decidedly liberal bent – believes that claptrap.  It takes only a little deep thinking to realize that raising the minimum wage will price the low-skilled out of the market.  You cannot pass a law and make the teenager with no work history a more valuable employee than the market is  already paying.  Moreover, business owners will see their most sensitive costs go up and respond in one of two ways: either raise their prices or cut back on the number of people they hire.  Both will work to the disadvantage of the poor in the neighborhood.

But the economic ignorance of the left continues undeterred.  I sometimes wonder if they truly are so cynical that they want to pass such laws to cement their political credentials and don’t really care if the poor suffer because of it, or if they are misguided enough to believe in such fairy tales.  And they say the Republicans are the ones who let ideology blind them to the dictates of science.

Here’s another one that left me open-mouthed last week: both the President and Harry Reid were out there insisting that the next round of fiscal talks be addressed with a “balanced approach” which includes more revenue (they don’t actually want to say “higher taxes”) as well as spending cuts.  Reid, for his part, has been insisting that we must “ask the wealthy to pay a little more.”

Excuse me?  Didn’t we just get done “asking” the wealthy to pay “a little more” in the form of a $620 billion tax hike at the end of the fiscal cliff drama?  If I had any respect for the Senate Majority Leader’s integrity I would be astonished at the glibness with which he ignores that deal completely and comes back to the table asking for more, using exactly the same verbiage.

The President, as well, as taken to calling for “tax reform.”  Now for most of the last few years, Republicans have been calling for real tax reform, which means a root and branch revamp of the tax code, ridding it of the accumulated barnacles of deductions, special provisions, credits and other economics-distorting provisions, in exchange for a clean, fair, simple set of tax rules.  Essentially, the trade was eliminating tax breaks to get lower rates, all on a tax-neutral basis.

In the Obama lexicon, however, only one side of this exchange is on the table: eliminate the deductions for the wealthy, so they end up paying higher taxes.  And he continues to play the GOP as friends of the rich, saying that they can’t find “one little deduction for the rich that they are willing to eliminate.”  

This is all so sad.  It shows to the least discerning observer two things: first, that the Democrats’ main objective is finding ways to finance their spending, not putting the government fisc on a sustainable path.  Second, they really have no interest in coming to resolution with Republicans.  The revenue side of any viable deal has been done; we must now look to spending.  By insisting on more revenue, the Democrats are putting a spending deal out of reach.

It could be the same with immigration reform.  Here at least is an issue upon which both parties, for their own reasons, want to come to a compromise solution.  Indeed, the bipartisan Group of Eight in the Senate, notably including the GOP’s new leading light, Marco Rubio, have come up with a set of principles around which major reform could be realized.

So what does the President do?  While giving a nod of encouragement to the Senate effort, he offers his own thoughts which include a certain deal-killer: a quick path to citizenship for the 11 million illegals already living in this country.  If he doesn’t know that’s a poison pill for the conservative side of the aisle, he is poorly advised, which I don’t believe.

It remains to be seen how hard he will push for this provision.  Whether he presses it will be a clear indicator of his plans for the next two years: he can either try to get things done, which by definition means reaching some accommodation with House conservatives, or he can maintain a state of constant conflict and hope to regain his majority in 2014 for his last two years.

From what I’ve seen in the last four years, I’m not optimistic.

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