Wednesday, January 28, 2009

First Warnings: Is Obama’s historic train ride a train wreck in the making?

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 1/28/09

Note to Judd Gregg, my Senator from New Hampshire: Please oppose the bailout and demand a new program starting from scratch focusing on infrastructure and the Schwarzenegger/Bloomberg/Rendell "Building America’s Future" coalition. Demand management up front on this project with a face on it and not Rahm Emanuel’s; Arnold Schwarzenegger’s perhaps or Bloomberg’s or Christie Whitman’s. The Wall Street Journal article today “A 40-year Wish List" expresses the will of the heartland. We have been scammed by Rahm Emanuel.

The Journal opinion piece starts with a quote from Rahm Emanuel last November: Never let a serious crisis go to waste. What I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you couldn't do before.

My first impression of Barack Obama was that he was a very decent guy with some bad friends. I have bad friends myself, and I have spent some serious quality time in Chicago where I got to know the worst of my bad friends. But some of these are people I would feel uncomfortable being in the same room with: Legendary violent political nihilists, religious fanatics and entrenched anarchists, Chicago gangsters. And politicians who left the trade briefly only to come back multi-millionaires to work for Obama.

My kids love Obama; the women in my family like him and so do I and so do most of my friends. But there is this that has been troubling: Some of the very worst of my bad friends really, really, really love Obama. They see him as the Anti-President and they like that. Obama knows this and has been trying to counter. I am convinced that he is a grown-up. But he needs some new friends. Life is like that, especially a creative and serendipitous life like his. Going forward at one point requires a quantum leap. You can’t bring anything with you. You simply have to let go and turn the corner and leave it all behind. Or they will take you down.

Great Presidents are remembered by the faces they keep around them; they are their agents in the outer world. Lincoln’s face to the work ahead was Grant, Roosevelt’s Eisenhower and George Marshall. So far Obama has shown us two faces: Hillary Clinton’s looks out and Rahm Emanuel’s looks in. He’s going to need new faces.

The Journal article calls the bailout a political wonder that manages to spend money on just about every pent-up Democratic proposal of the last 40 years.

“We've looked it over,” they write, “and even we can't quite believe it. There's $1 billion for Amtrak, the federal railroad that hasn't turned a profit in 40 years; $2 billion for child-care subsidies; $50 million for that great engine of job creation, the National Endowment for the Arts; $400 million for global-warming research and another $2.4 billion for carbon-capture demonstration projects. There's even $650 million on top of the billions already doled out to pay for digital TV conversion coupons.”

Some of this spending is based on thinking and practices that injured the poor and almost destroyed the Democratic Party 30 years ago. If left unfettered it could do so again.

The Journal article points out that some $30 billion, or less than 5% of the spending in the bill, is for fixing bridges or other highway projects.

Last month Frank Luntz, a communication specialist associated with Republican causes conducted a national survey of 800 registered voters on their attitudes toward infrastructure investment. A near unanimous 94 % are concerned about our nation’s infrastructure. Fully 84 % want more money spent by the federal government to improve America’s infrastructure. And 81 % say they are prepared to pay 1 % more in taxes for this.

We are today in a period of instability. The “bailout” fever is a phenomenon related to this, much like the war fever which led 75% of Americans to support the misconceived invasion of Iraq even after they were told by Donald Rumsfeld that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

This train should be stopped before it leaves the station. Obama has already lost control of it. Now is the time for Congress to speak up as they should have spoken up but did not when Bush and Rove called on them to sign off on their misadventure in Iraq. Congress was not brave then when they needed to be brave. This is another of those times when they need to be brave. The Blue Dogs in Congress should lead the way on this correction.

Obama started making better friends when he ran for President. A year ago this time he asked his pal and co-candidate Bill Richardson if he could join him in watching the Super Bowl. I want to suggest to him a good companion for Super Bowl XLIII this Sunday: Robert C. Gates, Secretary of Defense.

This is a face he should get to know and appreciate. Because Gates’ is the face of an end game. It is the face of a project born without leadership and conducted without management till it reached the point of no return. Gates is the adult called in to try and save the pieces of a broken legacy.

It is not too late to fix this. But like the invasion of Iraq, once this train leaves the station, it will be.