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“Suspending Disbelief” by Clark Judge

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The weekly column from Clark Judge:

Suspending Disbelief
By Clark S. Judge: managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc. <> ; chairman, Pacific Research Institute <>

One of the tricks of politics is coming up with memorable phrases that define issues. But as the White House has been learning in recent weeks, phrasemaking carries with it a variation of the Colin Powell rule: You break it; you own it. In this case, if you break through the media clutter, the soundbite owns you.

Case in point number 1:Shovel ready”.
At the time of the first stimulus, the White House was adamant that, if Congress would just appropriate the requested money, construction projects would bloom across the nation. Untold numbers of roads, bridges and other public works dreams were teed up and ready to start, they said. What about environmental impact statements and attendant court challenges, Republicans asked? Don’t listen tot them, was the White House’s response. They’re just obstructionists.
[# More #]
Republicans did suggest that tax cuts would produce jobs quickly and, for the government, cheaply, with the resultant economic growth diminishing the net drain on the federal coffers. There they go again, was the White House’s brush off – the Laffer Curve.

So now “shovel ready” is a joke. The spending it let loose has been big enough to sink the US government’s capital market position, and the president must live with his memorable defining phrase.

Case in point number 2: “Nine Percent”.
Enact our program and unemployment will never rise about nine percent, the president said. This unfortunate prediction has engendered a second recently: We’ve hit a little bump in the road. Some bump. Some road.

Again, Republicans warned that the program didn’t fit the realities. Consider the General Motors bailout, which was part of the larger package. Had it never occurred, GM would have gone through bankruptcy, been restructured, and come out the other end a going concern. Some now say that after the bailout money was spent, that, essentially, is what happened. The only thing changed would have been that the UAW would have kept its contractual place at the back of the line and senior bondholders would have kept theirs at the front. The US government’s reputation for honoring and upholding contracts would have remained intact. But that reputation is one reason the U.S. has long been considered the world’s safe haven for investment, and by extension for job creation, a reputation now a little less secure. Like so much in the president’s program, the result may have been less job creation than had the administration done nothing.

In any event, Mr. Obama must live with the now laughable “nine percent” soundbite of two years ago.

Case in point number 3: “If you like your health insurance, you will never have to give it up.”
This was the president’s poll-driven promise during the health care debate. Pollsters were unanimous that being forced to give up their current coverage was one of the biggest objections to Obama-style health care overhaul. So the president said again and again, it is not true; you won’t. And the poodle press wagged its tail and yapped at critics: he said not to worry; what more do you want?

How awkward that last week, McKinsey & Company concluded that up to 78 million Americans will lose their health insurance once Obamacare is fully in force. Actually, the Congressional Budget Office had predicted at the time of Obamacare’s passage that the legislation would lead to nine to eleven million Americans losing their current coverage. A few months later, a former CBO chief pegged the number at 35 million. Still others have put the number who will involuntarily lose their current insurance thanks to Obamacare at 100 million or higher.

Case in point number 4: “Weeks, not months.”
That is how long we would be involved in the Libya action, the president pledged. Or was it not a pledge but a prediction, as in, hey, what do I know, it’s anyone’s guess. Or perhaps “weeks, not months” was a poll-driven diversion so the administration could get us so far into whatever it wanted to do that we couldn’t get out — just as with the unpopular healthcare overhaul or the unpopular government spending?

Here is the sad fact. It looks as though the administration simply puts out whatever line it needs to get through the next day. It is doubtful that anyone inside the White House ever seriously examined whether Obamacare would cost Americans their current policies… or did a serious inventory of public works projects ready to go… or seriously demanded to know what it would take to wrap up a Libyan operation once launched. Even for the president’s supporters, accepting White House assurances on anything has begun to require a suspension of disbelief.

With just sixteen months until the election, that’s a problem.


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