President Obama isn't just getting pummeled from the right. He's also being attacked by the left. Today both Charles Krauthammer and Paul Krugman denounce Obama in no uncertain terms for being deceptive about the nature of the national debt.
To Krauthammer, Obama is a fraud. He's been racking up $1.5 trillion a year deficits, now has suddenly found religion. Republicans should beware. As Krauthammer puts it,
Obama has run disastrous annual deficits of around $1.5 trillion while insisting for months on a “clean” debt-ceiling increase, i.e., with no budget cuts at all. Yet suddenly he now rises to champion major long-term debt reduction, scorning any suggestions of a short-term debt-limit deal as can-kicking.
The flip-flop is transparently political. A short-term deal means another debt-ceiling fight before Election Day, a debate that would put Obama on the defensive and distract from the Mediscare campaign to which the Democrats are clinging to save them in 2012.
To Krugman, Obama is a fraud. Obama has shed whatever progressive bona fides he ever possessed. He not only sounds like a Herbert Hoover Republican, he's also acting like one. An obsession with deficits threatens to mire the economy in further misery. Why focus on deficits when the real problem is jobs? Krugman observes,
It’s getting harder and harder to trust Mr. Obama’s motives in the budget fight, given the way his economic rhetoric has veered to the right. In fact, if all you did was listen to his speeches, you might conclude that he basically shares the G.O.P.’s diagnosis of what ails our economy and what should be done to fix it. And maybe that’s not a false impression; maybe it’s the simple truth.
Both Krauthammer and Krugman are pillorying Obama for what they see as rank opportunism. But what president hasn't acted opportunistically? And if apprehension about the debt pushes Obama to become the first Democratic president to tackle entitlement programs, why would Republicans object? As David Brooks put it in the New York Times the other day, this is an opportunity that the GOP will probably never see again.
Anyway, Obama's call for a $4 trillion cut in debt simply follows the proposal of the Bowles-Simpson commission. You may recall that the commission wanted a combination of sweeping spending reductions combined with some tax hikes. This is the first time that Obama has put his own prestige on the line when it comes to the budget. Now that he and the house speaker have met secretly to discuss the debt ceiling, they have become a political odd couple. For both him and Boehner, success or failure in reaching an agreement could determine their political fates.
Image by Elizabeth Cromwell