The economy is in the Slough of Despond, according to President Obama. If we don't do what he says, we invite a catastrophe from which we may never recover. Indeed, in his Feb. 24 address to Congress -- in a passage intended to be hopeful and uplifting -- Obama compared our plight to that of America in the darkest days of the Civil War, Great Depression, World War II and the Industrial Revolution.
But there's good news! According to his budget -- which he assures us is an "honest accounting" of our predicament -- the economy will shrink by only a measly 1.2 percent this year (it fell by a 6.2 percent annual rate in the final quarter of 2008) and then take off next year with 3.2 percent growth and soar for years to come.
So which is it? Are we facing the biblical doom described in "Ghostbusters" where fire and brimstone come down from the skies, rivers and seas boil, the dead rise from their graves, and dogs and cats live together? Or, are we in a steep-but-conventional recession that will run its course by the end of the year and be replaced by higher-than-normal growth?
Well, it depends on which Barack Obama you happen to be listening to. It's tempting to say the man is two-faced, but that seems like a woeful undercount. The man has more facets than a disco ball, more angles than a rhombic triacontahedron.
He cites -- and incites -- fear over the financial crisis, the recession and the housing mess to justify his enormous expansion of government, but most of his priorities have little to do with any of these things. Candidate Obama promised a net budget cut. But President Obama wants to increase discretionary spending by 12 percent. He proposes increasing taxes by $1.3 trillion and entitlement spending by at least $700 billion, but insists that he doesn't believe in "bigger government."
He loves to point out that he inherited a large deficit from the Republicans -- which he did. But for reasons that are hard to grasp, he then suggests that this means Republicans have no right to complain when the deficit quadruples in one year or when he seeks to spend trillions of dollars on programs that have nothing whatsoever to do with ending the recession. Democrats flayed President Bush for deficits in the $300 billion to $400 billion range, when the country was at war and recovering from 9/11. Obama boasts that the deficit will be down to $500 billion to $600 billion during "peace and prosperity" -- and that's only if his absurdly rosy scenario comes to pass. And we are supposed to applaud his fiscal seriousness to boot.