I run a campaign based on “change you can believe in.” I win big at home, and hundreds of millions of people around the world seemed thrilled as well. I’m still very popular with the American people, so I should have all the political capital I need to tackle the big problems that we face.
Well, I guess that believing in the idea of “change” is not the same thing as supporting particular changes. When I try to actually do something, my friends in Washington and in capitals of our allies abroad get cold feet.
Oh sure, I got that big economic stimulus bill through Congress and signed into law in record time, with the whole thing wrapped up a month after I took office. But that’s because we were giving away $800 billion in tax cuts and more spending, and it’s always easier to give something away than to take something back.
Since then, I’ve tried to focus public attention on the need to address our long-term budget deficits — and things have gotten a lot tougher.
Yes, my Democratic friends say we’ve got to do something about those deficits, that they’re growing out of control and threatening our economic future and that we’re too dependent on China to lend us money.
But when I offer significant proposals to reduce our deficits, they reject them. Even worse, they support other ideas, like providing new tax breaks for rich people, that would actually make things worse. Sometimes, when it comes to showering more tax cuts on the rich, it’s hard to tell Democrats from Republicans.
During my campaign, I told everyone that I would tax the rich to help cut the deficit and finance health reform. When I took office, I proposed to (1) let George W. Bush’s tax cuts expire for those making more than $250,000 a year and (2) limit the value of itemized deductions to 28 percent for those at the very top.
Now, plenty of Democrats worry that the former will raise taxes on small business owners and the latter will cause charitable donations to dry up. The charges are wildly exaggerated but, for politicians, it’s easier to defend small business and charities than to ask anyone to pay more taxes – even for worthy causes.
What I can’t understand is why some Democrats, who complain loudly that my budget doesn’t cut the deficit enough, now want to scale back the estate tax for very rich people and to provide new tax breaks for small business that would just give rich people a new place to shelter their income.
My friends overseas are not much better.
When Bush was president, our friends in Paris, Berlin, and other European capitals complained that he didn’t consult with them. They said they’d love to cooperate with us in areas in which we have shared interests.
Hah! Now that I’m trying to work with them on economic and military policy, they’re all running for the hills.
They’ve rejected the guts of a coordinated global response to the economic crisis. They won’t provide anything like the fiscal stimulus their economies need, and they’re too consumed with their domestic problems to help us update the global economic rules in ways that are appropriate for today’s challenges.
That’s not going to make my trip to Europe this week much fun. (It sure will be interesting to exchange ideas with the Czech prime minister, who said our plan for the global economy is the “road to hell.”
But across the Atlantic, the real hypocrisy comes in foreign affairs. European leaders are happy, of course, that I’m closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and reducing our combat forces in Iraq. They know I never supported that war, so it wasn’t hard to find common ground on that one.
But, while I was running for president, I thought we agreed that the real fight against al-Qaeda was in Afghanistan and that we couldn’t lose that one. Now, they act like they don’t think there’s anything worth fighting for.
They wanted someone who would work with them on foreign policy. Well, I’m here. But if they want my cooperation, they’ve got to give me some help – like more of their own troops for the battles ahead.
Unfortunately, no one’s stepping up.
I see why presidents go prematurely gray or wrinkly. Your enemies hurt you, but your friends hurt you worse.