The Audacity of Opacity

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Andrew Ferguson's column at Bloomberg News takes on Barack Obama's best-selling memoir/epistle The Audacity of Hope.

Unfortunately, Obama doesn't bother to point the way with any real specificity. He's appalled at the budget deficit, for example, and he's determined to fix it. But beyond that—well, let him explain the details.

"We know what to do," he writes. "We can cut and consolidate nonessential programs. We can rein in spending on health care costs. We can eliminate tax credits that have outlived their usefulness and close loopholes that let corporations get away with paying no taxes."

The book is filled with passages that follow the same pattern: belaboring the obvious on the assumption that no one has ever had dared speak such bromides before, and then concluding the discussion with a rear-guard blast at those cynical politicians who "refuse to make the tough choices."

This echoes, albeit with more analysis, the other reviews of Obama's book. Sen. Gary Hart gushed over the book in the New York Times but made sure to huff that the book is "missing" the "strategic sense, an inherent understanding of how the framework of their thinking and the tides of the times fit together and how their nation's powers should be applied to achieve its large purposes." As if that would stop it from selling.

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  1. A politician speaks in vague terms!

    Film at 11!

  2. The rule is to say absolutely nothing for which you can be accountable I believe

  3. Obama is whatever you want him to be.
    I suggest you make him the liberaltarian savior for a while.

  4. How many times will the media put this kind of crap out without calling them on it? Good for this guy for calling Obama on this BS.

    “We can cut and consolidate nonessential programs.”

    What the hell is a “nonessential program”? Everything you don’t like I guess

    “We can rein in spending on health care costs.”

    How? We can always rein in spending but that usually entails reining in services as well. That is classic politico dodge get something for free by magically “cutting waste”.

    “We can eliminate tax credits that have outlived their usefulness and close loopholes that let corporations get away with paying no taxes.”

    That one is so stupid it is hardly worth responding. Raising corporate taxes causes corporations to do one of three things; change their behavior to avoid the taxes, relocate to more tax friendly countries, or pass what they can’t avoid on to customers and shareholders. Closing loopholes is not going to solve the deficit. Futher, even if it did, “closing loopholes” is just political speak for taxing other people’s supporters.

    How about this idea; cut taxes to encourage work and investment so that the economy grows and you get more money by getting a piece of a bigger pie. Three years ago Bush said that the deficit would be cut in half in three years. People said he was nuts. Guess what, the economy grew, revenue went up and teh deficit went down. If politicians would start worrying about how to help people make money and wealth rather than finding ways of stealing more of the wealth that is already there, we would be a lot better off.

    Currently, the federal government collects about 18.7% of the GDP. That is historically high. It ought to be able to function on 18 cents of every dollar every American earns. The last thing it needs is more of that.

  5. You guys are missing the message! We are young, we have hope, we are audacious, we can transcend the tough questions with the motive force of our good looks! We don’t have to be specific. We are young and we look good in a dress shirt and slacks. Oh wait, that’s just me.

  6. “A politician speaks in vague terms!”

    A monster [or set of monsters] of our own creation. When politics is driven by a ethic of handouts and debate is limited to soundbites, instead of a serious discussion of say, fixing Social Security, you get cries of “cheating retirees” and no substantive discussion of the real fiscal problems and the costs and benefits of various options.

  7. In defense of, Obama, I’m not convinced his book was supposed to be for policy wonks. It was a vehicle to get his name out to the general public and to give an overall view of his philosophy on governing. In that regard, it was enormously successful.

    Or, as Biden would say:

    Don’t be trippin’ on my main man Obama. I’ll have to lay the smack down. Golly.

  8. “”We know what to do,” he writes. “We can cut and consolidate nonessential programs. We can rein in spending on health care costs. We can eliminate tax credits that have outlived their usefulness and close loopholes that let corporations get away with paying no taxes.” ”

    This is one step lazier than the last round of “we all know what to do”, which was that “All you need to do is repeal the Bush tax cuts and you can improve healthcare, improve schools, get our troops everything they need on time, search every container that enters the country, implement all 9/11 commission suggestions, and give everyone a pony.”

  9. Obama is no Hugo Chavez but ANYONE is preferable to Bush or whoever those Redneck Christians pick to piss all over our Civil Liberties

  10. Any senator who used to be a constitutional law prof ought to be tearing the present administration a new one on the senate floor every week.

    The fact that he isn’t doing this means that he’s a powerhungry hack.

    Obama, step aside.

  11. Platitudes for the masses.

    I’d vote for a guy that was honest and intelligent, but I’m afraid he’d scare the majority of citizens and be unelectable.

  12. Mr. Obama, thank you for coming in to be interviewed for this important job. Can you give me three examples in your career where you successfully lead a team that cut spending that was passionately supported by opposing forces? How did you convince them to give up their spending? Or are you just an empty suit?

  13. What the hell is a “nonessential program”? Everything you don’t like I guess

    No, a nonessential program is something that is disliked by the group of people you happen to be speaking to at that particular moment.

  14. You guys are missing the message! We are young, we have hope, we are audacious, we can transcend the tough questions with the motive force of our good looks! We don’t have to be specific. We are young and we look good in a dress shirt and slacks. Oh wait, that’s just me.

    Totally man, power to the people!

  15. Along with rejecting all family members of presidents from the last one hundred years, let us also reject people who don’t have a resume that makes us say, “Wow, this guy is qualified to be president!” Didn’t the current presidency teach us anything?

  16. This seems to be quite the Obama bash fest.

    In his Book, if you guys bothered to read it, he explicitly says that it is not a policy manifesto. That said, he still should offer plans to back up his rhetoric.

    But, wait, he has offered concrete plans.

    First, and most important, on the Senate Floor no less, he introduced legislation to withdraw from Iraq. No other pres. candidate can say that.

    Second, regarding the empty suit comment, that is nonsense. By all accounts, the man is extremely intelligent (i.e. not an empty-suit.) You can argue that he has not been in the game long enough to merit the presidency but he certainly is no empty suit.

    Furthermoe, if you actually took the time to look at his record in the Illinois Senate and U.S. Senate he has passed and/or sponsored very substantial legislation.

    For instance, in his two years in the U.S. Senate, he passed the Transparency Act with Senator Coburn. He passed the “loose nukes” legislation with Senator Lugar. He took the lead on ethics reform and the Senate just passed a strong-minded bill. As noted above, he just introduced his Iraq De-escalation act, which is a substantive and realistic plan for leaving Iraq. He has also co-sponsored bills on climate change (with McCain), net neutrality (with Snowe), and Election Fraud (with Schumer) and he just gave a major floor speech on health care, and pledged to introduce a bill on that shortly.

    If people bothered to look at his political career they would see that Obama is introducing legislation to back-up his rhetoric.

  17. Matt,

    You mean like this?

  18. Well said Meyer.

    People are lazy and just don’t bother to look to see if their conclusory statements have any merit.

  19. Whenever a Democrat says anything like this :

    “We can cut and consolidate nonessential programs.”

    I always have a good laugh.

  20. BANANA in the development sphere is paralleled by SENSE in the political–Say Exactly Nothing Substantive Ever.

  21. …whoever those Redneck Christians pick to piss all over our Civil Liberties

    Do you actually believe that you had civil liberties before GWB took office? And now they’re all gone?

  22. DG,

    Okay, you’ve made the point that Obama hasn’t merely been twittling his thumbs in the Senate, and that’s fair enough.

    Still, none of those activities you cited addressed deficit cutting, the focus of the quoted passage. And while you and Cab may be correct that his book wasn’t the place for whatever details may possibly support the empty assertions his empty assertions, that doesn’t change the fact that they’re indeed empty and downright meaningless assertions. Especially when introduced by saying, “We know what to do” as if it’s only corruption or laziness that has kept it from being done. No, some of what he cites is non sequitur and some of it would face stiff resistance, including from among his own constituency, to realize. It’s one thing to save boring details for some better time; it’s quite another to mislead.

  23. “…those redneck Christians.”

    Brilliant, incisive, substantive analysis of the electorate by a sober, rational Kucinich supporter!

  24. Meyer,
    Your link was news to me. I should have googled before I spoke.

    That being said, in some ways, the speech stregnthens my argument. If ever there was meaningless sop to the civil liberties crowd, a crumb tossed by a man who voted against a firm timeline in Iraq and for a slightly modified extension of the PATRIOT act, this was it.

    An eloquent speaker can be compelling in his defense of civil liberties. An eloquent speaker can be compelling on almost any subject. The problem is that it doesn’t neccessarily mean anything.

    http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/o000167/key-votes/

  25. close loopholes that let corporations get away with paying no taxes.

    You know, I don’t see how this has even been difficult. As long as we’re going to have an SEC regulating how corporations report their profits to Wall Street, and as long as we’re going to tax corporations based on their profits, why are we doing all this twice?

    Just unify the tax code with the SEC reporting regulations. That way corporations are no longer incentivized to overstate their earnings on Wall Street, since they’d have to pay more taxes if they did. Conversely, they are incentivized to actually report a profit to the IRS and pay taxes on it, because if they report a loss their stock tanks.

    It’s not a magic bullet, and it doesn’t quite handle non-traded companies, but it’s a start, and it would at least balance incentives to induce honesty, and it would save money, since the accounting only has to be done once, not twice.

  26. lunchstealer,

    That may be a good idea, and I’ve thought about that myself, at least to some degree. I think the argument against it, at least in regards to its protection of investors, would be that as long as investors can see what corporations reported for tax purposes (and I believe they indeed can?), they have the choice as to how much to believe the report meant for them when the two differ signficantly. Your proposal, in this regard, would essentially would essentially have the effect of legislating against stupidity. And, in fact, I do believe I heard that the two sets of reports had begun to differ wildly right before the big crash of 2000. I won’t say that justifies legislation to reduce “irrational exuberance” per se, but I think it’s worth noting! Regarding the other side of your argument, ie, the incentive to report a profit and thus pay taxes, that’s a point I hadn’t considered before, but I wonder if there’ll still be a way to get around it. Such as, “Pssst, don’t believe that P&I statement that showed a loss, we just hadda say that for tax purposes, y’know?” Still, the idea of separate “official” reporting is intuitively distasteful, and there may very well be something to the idea of unification.

  27. I think people in general misunderstand the difference between aptitude and experience. And, in politics, there’s a further necessary distinction: history. Meaning, while in office, preferably an executive one or two, what has this joker done? Politicians lie to us all the time to get elected or re-elected, so their words are worthless, but we can judge them by their actions in office. Or even in the private sector, if they’ve held leadership positions there. A single term in Congress doesn’t present us with that kind of history. And, to be honest, even a governorship isn’t entirely enough, because managing foreign policy and military issues are usually not part of that job. Obviously, history isn’t the only thing we care about–aptitude does matter–but it’s the best measure we’ve got as voters.

    I’m growing more and more upset with the recent penchant in U.S. politics to prefer mystery meat over somewhat known alternatives. We should not elect presidents who haven’t shown their hands in previous iterations. Talk is cheap.

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