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Obama's grab toward 'infrastructure' won't work

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POSTED: September 15, 2010 1:17 p.m.
Who is trapped in a deeper, more inaccessible bunker? The 33 Chilean miners getting food, water and messages from the outside world through a tiny borehole, or Rahm Emanuel and the fellas at the White House who have apparently not yet received word that the American public is summoning itself for a shattering rejection of the administration’s spending?
President Barack Obama floated another $50 billion in infrastructure spending in a Labor Day speech in Milwaukee to union supporters as part of his highly touted, long-delayed “pivot to jobs.” But this is not a pivot, let alone to jobs, and makes you wonder if the Obama team realizes it’s not February 2009 anymore.
The administration already lavished more than $100 billion on infrastructure in its first stimulus bill. This new round of proposed spending is supposedly different because it will be “fully paid for,” in Obama’s words, but Congress has been struggling to reauthorize the transportation bill that expired more than a year ago precisely because it’s so hard to cover its costs. As for jobs, only the handful of believers in the “summer of recovery” will think that another shot of infrastructure will do anything for the job market soon, if ever.
The entire political-media establishment has now awakened to the catastrophe awaiting Democrats in the fall. A new CNN poll found that among independents, Republicans lead by an outlandish 62 to 30. Among voters who dislike both parties — one in five voters — Republicans now lead by 38 points. That’s a landslide, among voters who don’t even like them!
To beat back the coming wave, Obama is resorting to tactics and arguments that will only augment it. He wants to write George W. Bush’s name onto the 2010 ballot, even though he’s been safely retired back to Texas for two years. In a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, 58 percent think Republicans will pursue different policies from Bush. Obama’s insistence otherwise smacks of backward-looking blame-shifting.
In Milwaukee, Obama congratulated himself on his campaigning ability. But his signature strength on the stump is derision. Obama is not even pretending anymore to represent a different kind of politics. On anything not involving foreign policy, it’s slashing partisanship all the time. For the first time in the Washington Post/ABC News poll, a majority says he has not brought needed change to Washington, once his trademark promise.
Obama’s domestic program has become one enormous wedge issue, the classic definition of which is anything that drives a “wedge” between the bulk of the electorate and a politician’s core supporters. While most people want less of Obama’s program, his base wants more. Obama could ease off his spending to try to take the edge off the brewing backlash, but that would anger his supporters. Instead, he promises his union members yet more infrastructure projects. His new proposals for business tax breaks are paid for not with spending cuts, but countervailing business tax increases, lest the left throw a fit.
Amidst a potentially historic revolt against the status quo, the former agent of change offers only more of the same.

Lowry is editor of the National Review.
 

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