Jonah Goldberg

I cannot remember a more depressing week in Washington.

The Republicans boasted a heroic accomplishment: slashing $38.5 billion from the budget, purportedly the largest cuts in history.

But the cake was made from sawdust.

Strip away the gimmicks and shine a light on the shadows, and it turns out the real cuts amounted to $352 million, or less than 1 percent of what was promised.

America borrows $4 billion a day. So we likely borrowed more than we cut in the amount of time the GOP leadership spent bragging about its "victory."

It is a dismal, dreary, mope-inducing performance that makes one wonder what the point of the 2010 elections were.

If this was the best deal possible, fine. Republicans control only one house of Congress, and you can only achieve what is achievable. But they should have said so, admitted it frankly, and sworn to do better. Instead, the leadership touted their salt cracker of a budget cut as a feast, causing many to doubt they really grasp what their own voters want.

But as depressing as the Republicans' performance was, at least they're fighting for the right cause, their sails pointed in the right direction.

What can be said of President Obama's speech this week?

Vice President Joe Biden reportedly fell asleep during the president's address. It would speak better of the man if he closed his eyes not out of weariness but as part of a prolonged wince as he listened to his boss spew a farrago of distortions, self-righteous non sequiturs and ideological fatwas in the cause of extending his presidency at the expense of both the country and his honor.

Just two months ago, Obama introduced a $3.73 trillion budget that did nothing to address America's long-term fiscal problems and added $1.6 trillion in debt (an amount roughly equal to Bill Clinton's annual budgets). It was a great and glorious punt, a rhetorical can-kicking of historic proportions. But now the president throws his budget away, concedes the scope of our fiscal wound and then proposes applying a quack's poultice to heal it.

Entitlements, he admits, are gobbling up the budget; they must be "on the table." But even as he puts the plates on the table with one hand, he removes them with the other, insisting his cooks can save the meal with price controls and rationing.

And if that doesn't work, 12 years and three presidential terms from now, a series of fictional "failsafes" will kick in and some magical commission will genie-blink even more fictional cuts.

Obama prefers this to the Republican approach, which would introduce market forces into health care in order to save a calcified system from collapsing under the weight of state controls. Indeed, he couldn't even acknowledge this is the intent of Republican plan, preferring instead to recycle ancient barbs and insults about conservative cruelty and class warfare.

In a speech billed as being full of specifics, it had precious few save the president's passionate desire to raise taxes on "the wealthy." Rhetorically, Obama defines the "rich" as millionaires like himself or billionaires like Warren Buffet. But in reality he sets his sights considerably lower: households (and small businesses) that make more than $250,000 a year.

As for shared sacrifice, it is hard to find any in his proposal. Six out of 10 U.S. households receive more from the government than they pay in taxes. If "shared sacrifice" is the standing order of the day, where is theirs? The president suggests that repealing Bush's tax cuts will save the day. But the vast bulk of those cuts go to people making less than $250,000 a year. The president wants to keep those cuts as his idea while talking about shared sacrifice. Meanwhile, as The Wall Street Journal notes, if you taxed everyone who makes over $100,000 at a rate of 100 percent, you still wouldn't raise enough to balance president Obama's budget, never mind pay off any debt.

The only good news to come from all of this is that the battle is now joined. The president has staked his banner in the soil of reactionary liberalism. Good. By setting his fortifications so far to the left of the middle ground, he gives the forces of reform room to advance far.

The rank and file are ready for battle, with the tea parties at the forefront. The only question is whether the GOP's generals have the stomach for the fight. And that question raises as much dread as hope.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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