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In what The Washington Post called "a bold act of political defiance," President Obama Wednesday announced the recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Cordray's nomination had been blocked by a Senate filibuster. There was no way he was going to win approval in 2012.
Enraged Republicans denounced the appointment as an affront and a usurpation of power, for the Senate had not formally gone into recess.
The White House airily dismissed the Republican rage, saying no Senate business is being conducted during the Christmas-New Year break, and to argue that the Senate is still in session is a sham.
Obama seemed to delight in his Trumanesque contempt:
"I will not sit by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people they were elected to serve. ... Not at this make-or-break moment for middle-class Americans."
Cordray's appointment will be contested in the courts. Yet it will likely stand, though it's in-your-face aspect added appreciably to the bad blood bubbling in this city.
The Obamaites seem not to care.
Indeed, from year-end reports out of Hawaii, this is the new Obama strategy. He has given up on working with Congress and intends to run a year-long campaign modeled on Harry Truman's 1948 demagogic assault on the "no-good, do-nothing 80th Congress"—the one that passed Taft-Hartley and enacted the Marshall Plan.
Details of the Obama strategy were spoon-fed to the Post and New York Times. The Times lead: "President Obama is heading into his re-election campaign with plans to step up his offensive against an unpopular Congress, concluding that he cannot pass any major legislation in 2012 because of Republican hostility to his agenda."
The Post lead: "President Obama has a New Year's resolution that will shape his re-election strategy at the dawn of 2012: Keep beating up on an unpopular Congress."
Once he gets a year's extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut, said White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, that is the last "must-do" item, "the president is no longer tied to Washington, D.C."
But if the president is about to barnstorm the nation savaging Congress for a full year, where does that leave the country?
If Obama will be proposing nothing to deal with the fiscal crisis—trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see—how does America avert the future that Italy faces? Italy's debt is 120 percent of gross domestic product; ours, at 100 percent of GDP, is not all that far behind.
The U.S. fiscal crisis can be simply summarized. Since 2009, the federal government has been spending 24 to 25 percent of gross domestic product, while tax collections have fallen to 15 percent. When his first four years end, Obama will have grown the debt by $6 trillion.
And if he is giving up on any solution in 2012, believing he can win re-election by vilifying the GOP as toadies to America's top 1 percent, who are icily indifferent to the middle class, what hope is there for any political cooperation, should Obama win?
As of today, Obama is running even with Mitt Romney. He has lost much of the enthusiasm of the young and the minorities that he had in 2008. College-educated whites who had hopes for him seem disillusioned.
Assuredly, he may still win. But should Obama win, how, after a campaign like the one he intends to conduct, does he unite the country?
How does he work with a Republican Party that will likely still hold the House and will have made gains in the Senate, after he has spent a year castigating that party?
And what happen to the nation if we have five more years of political gridlock?
If the president failed to broker a budget compromise with the GOP in 2011 and has given up on 2012, how does he work with a Republican House in 2013? How does he, in a second term, resolve this budget crisis when his bottom-line demand for higher taxes is poison to a party he has just trashed for 15 months as a tool of Wall Street?
Resolving our fiscal crisis seems today beyond the capacity of the U.S. government, as currently constituted. We appear to be in a crisis of the regime rooted in an irreconcilable ideological conflict between two parties of relatively equal strength.
Republicans who refused to raise taxes in 2011 are not going to agree to raise them in 2013 in response to a request from an Obama who defeated them by portraying them as the party of the 1 percent in 2012.
If Obama is re-elected, the crisis endures.
It will then be resolved when the world realizes that the U.S. deficit and debt are beyond the capacity of this U.S. government to bring under control.
At that point, the ratings agencies and world markets will begin to treat the U.S. debt the way they treat the debts of Italy and Spain.
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