Conservatives Decide Obama Is Too Conservative

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Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

David Brooks today calls President Obama a “right-wing extremist.” And while he is obviously joking, the point of the joke is that, having spent five years gently and thoughtfully but consistently criticizing Obama from the right, as too much the doctrinaire big government liberal, he is now gently and thoughtfully criticizing him from the left. His column argues that Obama should aim for less deficit reduction and bigger increases in government investment in education and infrastructure.

Now, of course Brooks is a moderate. But there does seem to be an odd trend in the air of conservative pundits attacking him from the left. Charles Krauthammer today, after warming up with some standard right-wing talking points, tosses out a suggestion that Republicans agree to big revenue increases:

the GOP should offer Obama a major concession: a 50 percent solution in which only half the loophole money goes to reduce tax rates. The rest goes to the Treasury, to be spent or saved as Congress decides.

This seems to me the only plausible route to a grand compromise that restores the budget to fiscal health. Its chances are remote.

Of course its chances are remote. Because this is, by the standards of the current debate, a crazy left-wing idea. The Bowles-Simpson commission proposed to slash tax exemptions and use 90 percent of the proceeds to cut rates, with just 10 percent for deficit reduction. Republicans rejected that plan because it raised too much revenue. Obama has offered even smaller amounts of revenue. They’ve rejected that, too. The Republican position is that 100 percent of the proceeds from reducing tax deductions must go to lower rates. My God, I’m wondering what would happen if Obama suggested using half the revenue to increase the deficit. It would be socialism! Does Krauthammer realize any of this?

Meanwhile, Matthew Continetti of the Washington Free Beacon assails Obama for ignoring the jobs crisis:

Rather than pursue his American Jobs Act with anything approaching vigor, or authorize a no-brainer such as the Keystone XL Pipeline, or try new approaches that might conceivably attract Republican support, Obama chose the social issues, with an eye to changing control of the House in 2014.

The Keystone pipeline jobs-creation bit is nonsense — the number of jobs created by that pipeline would be a few thousand, a rounding error. What’s amusing here is Continetti’s lament that Obama failed to push for his American Jobs Act — his signature job-creation plan — with enough “vigor.” This is usually a liberal complaint — if Obama had just given more speeches, or more insistent speeches, he could have made Republicans change their minds. It’s bizarre to see a right-winger flay Obama for failing to use his rhetorical talents to persuade Republicans to accept Keynesian economics.

Gee, what happened when Obama unveiled his American Jobs Act and pounded the bully pulpit on its behalf? The Washington Free Beacon flayed it as “failed economic policies.” The same Matthew Continetti wrote a long rant against the entire idea that the government should try to reduce mass unemployment:

And yet the delusion persists that the way out of recession is for government to “create jobs.” …

Simple, unfashionable common sense tells us government doesn’t need more stimulus. It needs a tranquilizer. …

A responsible chief executive would level with the public and say tough measures are required to accelerate the great deleveraging, return the economy to equilibrium, and resume the natural tendency of market economies to grow. That means ending the policies of the last four years. It means a renewed focus on limiting government, the unwinding of federal involvement in housing, insurance, and autos, a moratorium on regulations, an end to drive-by decision-making, the permanent revision of the individual and corporate tax code, and a rethinking of monetary policy.

In other words, government should deepen the pain to cleanse the economy — standard Depression-era archconservatism. That of course is the standard GOP reaction now, which is why the Jobs Act, or any other stimulus, has been dead on arrival. It’s why Obama has attempted the circuitous and probably doomed approach of first trying to get Republicans to agree to a debt reduction deal so that, having settled the debt issue, the possibility of stimulus is back on the table. Now it’s probably not going to work. But it is pretty rich to see his efforts to meet Republicans on their chosen ideological grounds met with a sudden decision by some conservatives to leap back over to Obama’s and taunt him from there.