A New Era Of Responsibility? The Conundrum That Is Barack Obama

By Jon Kraushar Communications Consultant

We're only a few days into Barack Obama's presidency and already the plans and people he is committing himself (and the country) to raise questions about the "new era of responsibility" he called for in his inaugural address.

How responsible is it for Obama to select Timothy Geithner as his treasury secretary -- one of the architects of a fiasco of money mismanagement and unaccountable federal bailouts whose cost is ballooning toward one trillion dollars?

[caption id="attachment_6013" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner delivers his opening statement on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 21,2009, during his nomination hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)"][/caption]

Obama wants to put Geithner, an admitted tax scofflaw, in charge of our tax system. How does this square with his inaugural pledge that, "...those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account--to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day"?

In his inaugural address, Obama also said:

"The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act--not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth."

Obama's economic stimulation plan is being compared to President Roosevelt's in the Depression. FDR, like Obama, maintained that government "make work" infrastructure projects would employ millions and grow the economy. However, in FDR's time, the nation only revived with the "jolt" of World War II, which revved up manufacturing and employed people both in and out of the military.

Furthermore, an analysis just released by the Congressional Budget Office forecasts a lag effect in Obama's stimulus plan. The CBO estimates that less than half of Obama's $355 billion plan for spending on highways, renewable energy and other government projects would make its way through the economy by 2011, thus hobbling Obama's attempt to jump start a recovery from the recession in anything close to the short term. There is considerable argument among economists and historians about whether FDR's efforts suffered from the same delays and, ultimately, if FDR's "make work" projects weren't half-baked compared to what private innovators and entrepreneurs could have produced. Should it be FDR or Ronald Reagan that Obama is emulating?

In his inaugural address, Obama sure sounded like Reagan when he said:

"...it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things--some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom."

Yet Obama's philosophy and plans call for the exact opposite--economic growth from the top down (government-directed) rather than from the bottom up (citizen-directed). I believe the economy and stock market would smartly rebound immediatelyif Obama stimulated business investment as well as consumer spending by deeply cutting capital gains, corporate and personal income taxes.

Regarding national safety and security, Obama has issued orders to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay and to overhaul tough interrogations and prosecutions of terror suspects. In his inaugural address, Obama said, "...we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals" and he is repeating that refrain during his first days in office. However, do Obama's executive orders reconcile safety and ideals without endangering our lives and our country? In that sense, is Obama being as naive as President Jimmy Carter--or is he just making a symbolic gesture to the left figuring he'll work out tough security arrangements later?

In his inaugural address, Obama said:

" ...we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

Yet the leaders of the Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress are grieving over any decrease in the dogmas they have promised in the form of legislation and regulation to benefit their favored special interest groups, including labor unions, lawyers and environmentalists. Will Obama resist or roll over?

That leaves us with two excerpts from Obama's inaugural address--both of which I like--but when we compare them to his initial actions as president, they still leave us with a nagging question about what kind of president Obama will really be:

"The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works...

"Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested...we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

The conundrum that is Barack Obama may be resolved when this quote attributed to Obama's political hero, Abraham Lincoln, gets resolved over time as it applies to our president: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."

Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at www.jonkraushar.net.

Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at www.jonkraushar.net. He is a consultant to corporate and political leaders including Steve Forbes.