Imagine a day President Obama enters Oprah Winfrey's public confessional:
Oprah: As you know Mr. President, I was one of your supporters. This is a difficult interview for me. Americans have many questions. Let's begin by going back to the start of your second term.
It was a time of partisan division--the fiscal cliff and the debt limit fights. The economic recovery was anemic at best. Your calls for unity in confronting those challenges were fervent. You talked about a "balanced" budgeting approach but, as we came to see, your "balanced" cuts weren't cuts at all. When the unfunded off-budget liabilities for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and federal pensions hit hard and inflation took our debt to unsustainable levels, the forced austerity crippled our economy. As you know, America has not yet even begun to recover.
At your first second-term press conference, you were confronted with what you said in March, 2006 as senator:
“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. … Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.”
When President Bush wanted to extend the debt ceiling, you and your fellow Democrats unanimously voted against the raise, demanding that Congress pay for what it spends. But when you were President you said that was "an example of a new senator making what is a political vote as opposed to doing what was important for the country."
In retrospect, we now know that reckless spending has had dire consequences for our country. What do you say now?
Obama: Clearly, history has proven me wrong. I would have been wise to heed my own reservations as a freshmen senator.
Oprah: You had to be aware of the nonpartisan Congressional Accountability Office (CAO) reports that warned “…absent policy changes…the federal government continues to face an unsustainable fiscal path.” You continued to say you were for "balancing the budget," but spending and the deficit went up every year. You blamed Republicans for demanding "spending cuts" that were truly only decreases in budget increases. You had to know this spending was unsustainable. Were you lying?
Obama: I initially believed that a government stimulus was necessary. Once we acted, we had to sell the solution even when the economic numbers remained anemic. I couldn't admit I was wrong without unleashing more uncertainty.
Oprah: So you continued to lie about the depth of the problem we faced?
Obama: It wasn't a series of lies. It was one big spin repeated many times.
Oprah: You had to know that was wrong?
Obama: At the time? No. It's scary, isn't it? In Washington, lies are expected. We call it spin. Americans can't handle the truth. Or at least, that is how we governed. Bush outspent Clinton! I outspent Bush.
Oprah: You mean, it's not wrong because everyone does it?
Obama: I didn't invent the Potomac culture, but I didn't stop it either. It's just what is expected to get elected and stay in power. If you give people more goodies and have someone else pay, you're kept in office.
Oprah: Why the mea culpa now?
Obama: I don't know that I have a great answer for that. I realize that to many Americans, my admission comes too late to negate the damage done.
Oprah: Do you wish you could go back to start your second term again?
Obama: If only I could?
...Mr. President, don't wait for this interview! Honestly challenge Democrats and Republicans alike to make the tough choices to hold the line on spending, cut where you can, and spend where you must. Surprise us! Stop blaming and start leading. Let federal employees prove the old adage true that nothing inspires genius like a tight budget.