Confidence in Obama? Maybe not

Barack Obama called for national confidence in his speech to Congress, and the exhortation was needed — the best friend a recession has is fearfulness.

But as persuasive, refreshing and even dazzling as this remarkable president continues to be, the question remains whether we should have confidence in him, or more precisely, in his policies.

He gave the briefest possible lip service in the speech to the gravest of our economic issues, the tens of trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities incurred by Social Security and Medicare. The simultaneous suggestion was that a big-government spending frenzy and new taxes are just the thing we need on top of a bust-the-bank, sloppily constructed stimulus package and a seemingly endless list of bailouts.

To fund it all and help control the deficit, he plans to heap new taxes on high-income groups — maybe a couple of percent of us — while pulling troops out of Iraq. Maybe that nation can stand the withdrawal, but one recent analysis indicates that everything we fought for could be lost without a lingering presence. One wonders whether Obama’s planned, residual forces will be so recklessly small as to be impressively inexpensive.

He has meanwhile pronounced himself committed to the war in Afghanistan, and is dispatching an extra 17,000 troops to fight in what now looks to be a far more complicated, difficult venture than the taming of Iraq. It could also be many times as costly and far more enduring. Interestingly, he didn’t talk about that.

The issue that is most in America’s face right now is the failing economy, and so it makes sense that Obama would focus on this misfortune and want us to embrace his solutions. Sadly, there’s a problem, namely the dearth of evidence that the kind of federal spending in the stimulus legislation can ever provide more than minimal, temporary relief, and a plethora of evidence that it can cause major calamities over time.

So here he comes with more big programs, such as energy proposals that emphasize the intermittent, small-gain sources of wind and solar power that will require a new national electricity grid when more nuclear power would be a much sounder investment. He continues to celebrate the ethanol rip-off and wants to impose a bureaucratically monstrous, financially crushing cap-and-trade system to control carbon emissions even as other, more straightforward answers present themselves.

On the issue of health care, he makes a mighty leap in the direction of fiasco, pledging $634 billion in the 2010 budget for the first few inches of a mile-long universal insurance system. He says he’s going to hold down costs, but how — through rationing, requiring we all exercise more, dictating our diets and drinking and smoking habits? You’d think that before he would take on this new entitlement he would do more than say we need to figure out a way to curb present entitlements.

I know, I know, it is the Obama hour and if you raise questions about him you are a right-wing nutcase or an obstructionist Republican. But a mite’s worth of candor gets you to the assertion that it is utterly, totally, wildly irresponsible to plot new federal spending on health when we haven’t yet figured out what to do about Medicare — or had the nerve to take on Social Security or recognize that the federal government is already spending far, far more on our entitlement programs as on defense, that it has already dug itself into an impossible hole and really needs to quit digging.

My guess is that we will get through this recession despite wayward policies mixed in with some that seem to make sense, and then, not too much further down the road if decisive steps are not taken very quickly, we will face something many times worse, the equivalent of stimulus-package expenses coming our way regularly, whether we are confident or not.

(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)