— Bud Norman
As the tragedy that occurred in Libya on Sept. 11 becomes an ever greater embarrassment for the Obama administration, the administration’s excuses become ever more desperate.
The latest official line was trotted out in last week’s vice presidential debate when Joe Biden, in between his constant snorts, sighs, and rude interruptions, attempted to deflect the blame onto the State Department for failing to inform the president of repeated requests from the ambassador for more security and onto the House Republicans for cutting for the State Department’s security budget. Obama’s remaining supporters should hope that he comes up with something better for tonight’s debate, because neither argument is convincing.
Even as Biden was pleading Republican-imposed poverty as the reason for the fiasco, we were wondering if the money allocated for security was insufficient or merely misspent according to naïve notions about the Middle East. There were already reports that the Marines were denied ammunition to guard the Egyptian embassy, which had been attacked and trashed by an Islamist mob the same day as the murderous assault in Libya, and it seemed unlikely that the budget was so niggardly that it couldn’t afford a few bullets. Since then the story has proved even more improbable, as we’ve learned that the State Department’s security budget is twice what it was a decade ago, and that there was an extra $2 billion sitting around in the agency coffers earmarked for embassy security. In another example of the administration’s questionable priorities, we’ve also learned that there was enough money in the State Department’s budget to purchase a $108,000 charging station for one embassy’s newly purchased Chevy Volt.
Nor are we impressed with Biden’s claim that the fault lies not with the president but rather with the woman that he appointed to oversee the State Department. Although Hillary Clinton has dutifully accepted responsibility for the failure to provide the necessary security, surely Obama deserves some blame for putting her in charge. Nor does Clinton’s soldierly mea culpa change the fact that she and Obama, as well as several other administration officials, continued to peddle the story that a virtually unknown low-budget video had caused the tragedy, a bald-faced lie that resulted in the imprisonment of a filmmaker and yet another blow to the invaluable tradition of free speech.
— Bud Norman
That Rep. Paul Ryan sure is an awful, horrible, low-down, mean person, at least to hear President Barack Obama tell it.
Speaking before an adoring audience of editors and reporters at an Associated Press luncheon on Tuesday, Obama said that the Wisconsin congressman’s recently proposed budget plan was “thinly veiled social Darwinism.” He further stated that the Ryan plan is “so far to the right that it makes the Contract with America look like the New Deal.”
The latter charge was presumably meant as a disparagement, although it is unclear which of the two programs is being disparaged. The New Deal failed to lower the unemployment rate below 14.6 percent until World War II, and burdened future generations with such fiscal calamities as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Social Security, while the Contract with America included a welfare reform bill that is widely regarded as one of the more successful laws of the past generation, as well as tax cuts for small businesses such as the president now claims to champion. It also had some rather unexceptional reforms that were never passed into law, such as term limits and an independent audit of Congress, and some ideas that weren’t passed, such as a balanced budget amendment, that might have saved us from a number of current problems. Few Americans will remember anything that was included in the Contract with America way back in 1994, much less be able to name anything extremely right-wing in it, but Obama seems hopeful that many will vaguely recall the bad press it got from his adoring audience of editors and reporters.
The “thinly veiled social Darwinism” line is a more unambiguous insult. While Darwinism as a biological theory is so fashionable that to question any aspect of it marks one as a hopeless rube, Darwinism as a social theory is universally despised. Obama elaborated on the charge by claiming that the Ryan budget would “end Medicare as we know it,” deny mothers and children healthy food, dirty the water and air, and generally impose widespread misery on the populace. Hearing Obama describe the plan, one can imagine Ryan twirling his moustache and cackling a maniacal laugh as he ties the poor mothers and children to the train tracks, his murderous scheme thwarted only because the Amtrak subsidies have been slashed and no train is coming.
The Medicare trustees concede that the program as we know it will end with insolvency in 2024 anyway, so Ryan’s plan to replace it with a voucher system doesn’t seem very socially Darwinian, but the other charges do sound quite dreadful. Looking at the actual Ryan proposal, however, reveals that it would actually increase government spending, doesn’t actually balance the ledgers for decades, and that by 2022 the government’s budget as a share of gross domestic product would actually be higher than in the last two years of President Bill Clinton’s administration. Those years were the good old days, according to Democratic legend, and even Clinton’s most bitters foes don’t recall them as an era of starving mothers and children, dirty air and water, widespread misery, and survival of the fittest.
— Bud Norman