Power Play

Obama Can’t Outrun Culture of Crisis He Helped Create

State of the Union, Part 4: President challenges Congress to send him a reform bill, increase minimum wage


“What I will concede is that we were looking and the Republicans were looking for a trigger around which to build a mechanism to get us out of default possibility and the sequester was one of the ideas put forward, yes by the president's team.”

-- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on “Special Report with Bret Baier” on Tuesday talking about automatic, across-the-board cuts to federal spending enacted as part of a 2011 debt-limit deal.

President Obama heads to Georgia today to again pitch his proposal for a new federal program that would begin guaranteed public education at age four instead of age five.

This is a long-sought goal for Obama, who proposed something similar in his first address to a joint session of Congress four years ago, and for two generations of American liberals.


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“Cradle-to-career” education appeals to the left not just because it is widely believed by Democrats that earlier government intervention will help children of low-income families do better in school but also because it favors the most important part of the party’s base: government worker unions.

Obama Democrats say that the price of increasing the number of four year olds in taxpayer-funded schools from the current level of just over a quarter to something more like the 90 percent rate for other school-aged children is a worthwhile investment. They believe that earlier intervention will make for better students, healthier children and, eventually, a better workforce. The billions spent today would be recouped in later generations, goes the argument.

Maybe so, maybe not. Conservatives argue that earlier government intervention doesn’t lead to more successful students and that a more robust economy and less government dependency can better address the most important factor in determining the educational and economic fates of children: the strength and wealth of one’s family.

It makes for an interesting panel discussion at a think tank, but why is a president presiding over what is arguably the most dysfunctional government since the years before the Civil War out on the campaign trail talking about such a thing?

A government that can’t produce a budget for the current year and stands ever on the brink of partial shutdown doesn’t seem like a very good candidate for enacting a long-sought, sweeping, expensive liberal program.

In fact, the government is only 15 days away from the next fiscal crisis in which automatic spending cuts agreed to as part of a 2011 deal to avert an earlier fiscal crisis will go into effect. The so-called “sequester” is universally agreed to be a bad thing, since it cuts military spending indiscriminately.

In his State of the Union address, Obama denounced the practice of drifting from one “manufactured crisis to the next.” But it was his team that manufactured this one, offering the automatic cuts up as a guarantee to distrustful Republicans that the cuts promised in the 2011 deal would actually occur.

The cuts, of course, did not occur since a bipartisan panel appointed to recommend more palatable cuts, of course, failed in its work. The convoluted, three-step process looked destined to fail from the start, but at least offered a way out of the crisis of that moment.

So the president now denounces the imposition of the penalty his team created, warning of the direst of consequences to the cuts – something like $120 billion a year out of annual federal outlays of about $4 trillion – and demands that Republicans defuse the bomb by agreeing to his call for additional tax increases on top earners.

That dead-on-arrival proposal having been tendered, Obama is back to the business of building the future society of his dreams. These current troubles are beneath the scope of Obama’s ambitions for a transformative second term.

Such detachment may be a coping mechanism for a president who is facing down a second term that promises endless fiscal warfare, a continually weak economy and his own fast-approaching status as a lame duck.

If a man were behind four months on his mortgage and was talking to you about his plans to build an addition on his home you would think him daft and delusional. But in Washington, ignoring a current crisis to discuss grand dreams is called “boldness” and “vision.”

Obama is also watching his second-term cabinet appointments languish, and has fallen far behind the pace of his recent two-term predecessors in getting a new team together. He may also blame this on Republicans, but it does not change the reality.

The essence of the president’s strategy for dealing with his current woes is to mostly ignore them, believing that the consequences will mostly fall on Republicans and will return to him full Democratic control of Congress in next year’s elections.

Meantime, Obama will assign blame for the problems, citing unreasonable Republicans, and talk about what the country ought to be doing, if only it could be governed. If only Congress were all Democratic again. If only lawmakers agreed that the key to lower deficits later were higher deficits now.

Democrats thrilled and Republicans panicked when Obama rolled out his new bold brand for a second term. His re-election still fresh in the mind of the political class, Obama’s plan to drive his enemies to ruin on the current crises and then transform the nation sounded plausible.

But it’s increasingly looking like Obama 2.0 has the same glitch as Obama 1.0: An inability or disinterest in the humdrum work of governance and grubby deal making.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“It used to be called tax and spend liberalism.  But after losing time and time again in the early '80s and '90s to Republicans, the Democrats decided to change the language. You don't tax anymore. It's all revenues. And you never spend, you only invest. This is the Obama message.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”  


Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at  http:live.foxnews.com.


Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.