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Bush learned the hard way that running government as a perpetual crisis machine leads to bad policy and public fatigue. Obama's insistence on taking advantage of a crisis to push through every item on the progressive checklist right now is threatening to complete that cycle within his first year.
What are his options? First, stop doing harm. Throwing money all over the economy (and especially to sectors that match up with Democratic interests) is the shortest path to what Margaret Thatcher described as the inherent flaw in socialism: Eventually you run out of other people's money.
No matter how many fantastical multipliers Obama ascribes to government spending, with each day comes refutation of the administration's promises on jobs and economic growth. Even his chief source on the topic, economic adviser Christina Romer, now grants that calculating jobs "created or saved" by Team Obama is simply impossible.
Which leads to the second point: Stop it with the magical realism already.
Save terms such as "fiscal responsibility" for policies that at least minimally resemble that notion. Don't pretend that a budget that doubles the national debt in five years and triples it in 10 is the work of politicians tackling "the difficult choices." Americans have a pretty good (if slow-to-activate) B.S. detector, and the more you mislead them now, the worse they'll punish you later. Toward that end, producing real transparency instead of broken promises is the first step toward building credibility.
That the administration is now spending millions of dollars to revamp its useless stimulus-tracking site Recovery.gov is one more indication that, post-Bush, the White House still thinks of citizens as marks to be rolled.
Finally, it's time to connect the poster boy for hope to the original Man From Hope. After Bill Clinton bit off more domestic policy than even he could chew, leading to a Republican rout in the midterm elections of 1994, the 42nd president refocused his political intelligence on keeping his ambitions and, as a result, the size of government growth, limited. Though there is much to complain about in his record, the broad prosperity and mostly sound economic policy under his watch aren't included.
This shouldn't be a difficult task for Obama. As a political animal, he has always resembled Clinton more than Carter. This might help him avoid the Carteresque pileup he's driving into. Far more important, it just might help the rest of us.
Nick Gillespie is the editor of Reason.com and Reason.tv. Matt Welch is editor of Reason magazine. This story originally appeared in The Washington Post on July 19, 2009.