The View From Martha's Vineyard
As he and his daughters bicycle around the summer playground of the Northeastern elite, Martha's Vineyard, President Obama is steadily bleeding away both the support of the nation and that of his most loyal constituency.
Several times, his approval rating in Gallup's daily tracking poll has sunk to 39 percent, with disapproval reaching 54 percent. Support for his handling of the economy has dipped to the mid-20s. Only 11 percent of Americans, says Gallup, are satisfied with the way things are going.
Unemployment remains at 9 percent, as it has for two years. The Dow has lately lost 2,000 points, or $3 trillion in wealth wiped out. All that money the Fed pumped out is now being reflected not only in the price of gold, silver and Swiss francs, but in rising consumer prices — inflation. One in five U.S. children is living in poverty.
Middle America, some time ago, decided the "hopey, changey thing" was not working out for them. Now the patience of African-Americans with a president for whom they voted 24 to one is wearing thin.
At a Black Caucus confab in Detroit, Rep. Maxine Waters told an angry audience that if and when Black America demands that they confront Obama, the caucus is ready "to have the conversation."
A collision between Obama and his base seems inevitable. For Black America's situation, though tough today, seems certain to get tougher. Why?
First, black Americans held a significant share of the subprime mortgages that went sour when housing prices went south, and are thus over-represented among those who lost homes.
Second, black Americans, with a higher rate of poverty, depend more on the entitlement and social programs that Obama cannot avoid hoisting onto the chopping block in any "balanced" plan for dealing with the deficit-debt crisis.
Third, African-Americans are over-represented among the 22 million who work for local, state and federal governments. And while government workers came out best in terms of job security and salary hikes in the stimulus days of 2009 and 2010, in the austerity days of 2011, they are getting their fair share of pink slips. It is almost a truism: Whenever Middle America goes into recession, Black America flirts with depression.
Consider the U.S. Postal Service, with 600,000 employees, running a deficit of $8.5 billion and facing layoffs of 120,000. According to William Burrus, ex-president of the Postal Workers Union, 21 percent of all postal employees are black.
When the cuts come, minorities will take a big hit.
That African-Americans favor a powerful federal government is understandable. After all, it was the federal government that crushed the Confederacy, freed the slaves, sent troops to integrate the South, enacted the civil rights laws, imposed affirmative action on companies and colleges, and created the Great Society that provided trillions in wealth transfers and welfare benefits and employs a share of the black population that is nearly twice its representation in the labor force.
That African-Americans would see states' rights conservatives and small-government Republicans as hostile to the one powerful institution most friendly to them should come as a no surprise.
Here we come to Barack's dilemma.
The nation he leads is facing a deficit-debt crisis that comes of an inescapable truth: Whether we are talking about commitments to go to war to defend scores of nations or commitments to entitlement and Great Society programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, earned income tax credits, food stamps and Pell grants, we Americans have handed out promissory notes we no longer have the means to meet.
We can no longer deliver what we have promised.
We are running deficits of 10 percent of gross domestic product with a national debt over 100 percent. We are on the path that Italy is following, which is the path that Greece pursued.
We are an overextended empire and commonwealth facing strategic and fiscal bankruptcy. If Obama is to lead the nation out of the crisis it confronts, he has to preside over a downsizing of the welfare-warfare state — the same state that sustains his base.
Not to worry, we are told. When the lazy days of summer are over, Obama will present Congress with his big plan for resurrecting the economy and ensuring the long-term solvency of the nation.
Obama's September program — indeed, any credible plan to revive the economy and bring our books into balance — has to include a rollback of U.S. commitments at home and abroad.
Yet, domestically, this cannot be done without reducing future Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits, and cutting and capping the social programs of the Great Society. Moreover, half the nation cannot freeload forever, as is the case today, contributing nary a dime in federal income taxes.
And such reforms must adversely impact most Obama's political and personal base.
If he proposes new taxes, Tea Party Republicans fix bayonets.
If he proposes downsizing the government and cutting and capping social programs, his most loyal constituents rise up against him.
Enjoy the Vineyard, Mr. President.