Barely more than one month into its first term, and the administration of President Barack Obama is entering the rarefied world of Never-Never Land — the mythical world of Peter Pan where wishes magically come true and in which the normal laws of nature do not apply. How else, for example, to explain the president’s statements last weekend — delivered apparently with quite a straight face in his weekly radio address — that despite adding probably $1 trillion to the already mushrooming federal deficit and national debt, and on top of an additional $100 billion or so (the actual numbers are impossible to figure at this point) with his just-announced housing-rescue package, he plans to actually cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term? Only in the magical world into which Peter Pan took Wendy Darling and her siblings, could a government leader actually believe in such nonsense. Whether the president himself has fallen victim to believing the “walk-on-water” rhetoric employed by many to describe his new administration, however, is not really the question. After all, many (if not all) modern presidents have exhibited a propensity to inflate what is possible and to ignore the reality of actual numbers and facts.
The real question is, have a majority of Americans allowed themselves to be transported into Never-Never Land with President Obama? Have Americans so deluded themselves with visions of federal sugar plums dancing in their heads that they now believe adding some $1.6 trillion in the past year alone to our already debilitating national debt can be reversed and the record-high deficit substantially cut back even as massive federal spending accelerates? Do those clamoring for a piece of the money pie baked with borrowed ingredients not realize that increasing taxes, as the president proposed in his rosy radio address, will lead to scaled-back business activity and decreased employment? Will taxpayers be seduced into thinking that cutbacks in military spending in Iraq, which President Obama has promised, will not be gobbled up by increased military spending in Afghanistan (which the president has already ordered)?
Do Americans not realize — or care — that someone, sometime (our children and grandchildren, perhaps) will have to pay back the debt we are accumulating at a record pace? Do they understand — or care — that an increasing amount of that debt is held by foreign governments, ranging from China to Brazil? Do they fail to comprehend the power that creditors wield over those who are in their debt?
Of course, even in Never-Never Land, there are rocky shoals. For example, the newly installed secretary of transportation, former Republican congressman from Illinois, Ray LaHood, last week broached the idea that as a way of increasing tax revenues from highway usage, “[w]e should look at the vehicular miles program where people are actually clocked on the number of miles that they traveled.” Even though the administration’s press spokesman, Robert Gibbs, quickly distanced the president from LaHood’s proposal, in the Bizarro World of 21st-century American politics, you never really know for sure what’s real and what’s illusory.
But the scenario now being played out is actually humorous. We have a Republican secretary of transportation calling for a new, privacy-invasive tax program designed to dramatically increase the amount of federal taxes citizens pay for the privilege of putting gasoline in their cars and trucks, being slapped down by a Democratic president who is proposing to spend more money at a faster clip than any president in our history. Truly, we are living in strange times.
Do these guys even talk to each other? Do they have Cabinet meetings? Are policy initiatives vetted at all? It was one thing to have a sitting Republican U.S. senator — Judd Gregg, announced as the president’s choice to replace New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as commerce secretary designee — suddenly discover policy differences with a Democratic administration and withdraw his name before the first confirmation hearing. It is another matter altogether for a sitting Cabinet secretary to start announcing a major transportation policy initiative apparently at odds with his boss’ plans. Or was it?
One cannot ignore the possibility that all this is smoke and mirrors, and the president already does, or eventually will, support the vehicle mileage tax (VMT). In true Bizarro World fashion, was it not at government prodding that Americans began buying more fuel-efficient cars and driving fewer miles, thereby reducing federal gas taxes? In this strange dimension, it seems only fair that government tax us more for doing precisely what it has urged us to do. And after all, there’s no pain in Never-Never Land.