Victor Davis Hanson

The first possibility is that Obama and his advisors really believed that record deficit spending, near-zero interest rates and expansions in federal entitlements would jump-start the economy into prosperity. In fact, the opposite occurred. Economic growth continued to hover around or below 2 percent of GDP. Unemployment has never dipped below 7.8 percent during Obama's entire presidency. The massive borrowing made things worse, not better.

A second explanation for Obama's "irresponsible" and "unpatriotic" behavior is that, at some point, he began to see political advantages to massive borrowing when combined with near-zero interest rates. The growth of entitlements is popular with many voters, especially given that 47 percent pay no federal income taxes. Politically, it proved wiser to provide free birth control pills than to be demagogued as wanting to throw granny over a cliff. Who wants to run on giving fewer things to voters and making everyone pay more for what they receive?

Perhaps the Reagan-era notion of lower taxation could only be ended through a sense of impending calamity. As former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once put it, "You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before."

Reagan once advocated a "starve the beast" philosophy -- lower taxes resulted in less money for out-of-control government. Obama flipped that sequence to a "gorge the beast" paradigm of an out-of-control government demanding far more in taxes.

Higher taxes, weighted heavily toward the affluent, spread the wealth and correct the inequities of market-based compensation. They punish the culpable 1 percent. And they remind some that they did not build their businesses on their own. Deficits force income redistribution through changes in the tax code that in any other political climate would have proven impossible.

But beware of what you wish for. Obama has already gotten his dream of a vastly increased government, federalized health care, near-zero interest rates and record debt to force higher taxes. The problem now is that there are not enough millionaires and billionaires to make up for the shortfall. And if interest rates rise just a bit, the debt will bury us all -- fat cats and thin cats alike.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.


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