Michael Gerson

This ideological shift is also evident in Obama's treatment of charitable giving. The new budget seeks to raise billions for health reform by limiting the charitable deduction for the wealthy. This is a direct claim that the good done by government spending will be more important than the good done by the wealthy. But it is often wealthy people who make the large donations that sustain colleges, universities and teaching hospitals. If government is inherently superior at making such charitable choices in the public good, why not make our entire education and medical systems public? Which seems to be the goal.

As a practical matter, the promise of expensive, shared public goods entirely at the expense of the rich is a transparent deception. A good portion of the budget's spending reduction is illusory -- based on the phony assumption that Iraq and Afghanistan war outlays would have continued at similar levels in perpetuity. The budget's growth assumptions are not remotely realistic. It does little to address the crisis of unsustainable Social Security and Medicare obligations. And its $634 billion health care reform "fund" is merely a down payment -- perhaps a third of the future cost.

So who is going to eventually pay for this accelerating debt, temporarily held by the Chinese and others? As the national debt's percentage of GDP moves from about 40 percent to perhaps 70 percent, there will not be enough wealthy people left to bleed. Once the economy recovers, broad tax increases will be unavoidable. Or Obama's "once-in-a-generation chance" will actually involve the imposition of massive burdens on the next generation.

Conservatives hope Obama's overreach and Harry Reid's and Nancy Pelosi's arrogance will provoke a backlash -- leading markets to revolt, uniting the Republican base and causing doubts among fiscally conservative Democrats. But as an academic at Princeton recently reminded me, "It is only overreach if you fail."

In the meantime, we have learned some important things. On defense policy, the peace candidate is not a radical. On economic policy, the post-partisan could hardly be more partisan. Obama does not want to cultivate conservatives; he wants to crush them. And that is a revelation.


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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