Do as I say, not as I do

Hypocrisy, thy name is the American left.

A government shutdown, according to the Democrats, is an amoral assault on American values. It is something that should never be done, under any circumstances, as it threatens to wipe out the American economy, destroy the lives of ordinary Americans and possibly invite the beginning of the apocalypse.

Curious, then, how the Democratic Party had no particular aversion to shutting down the government in the past.

Let’s take, just as an example, former Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill of neighboring Massachusetts. O’Neill presided over a whopping eleven government shutdowns in his time as speaker, including five during the presidency of fellow Democrat Jimmy Carter.

Let that sink in for a minute. Under O’Neill and his Democratic allies, the government shut down roughly two-thirds of the total times it has ever shut down.

The reasons for these shutdowns ranged from disagreements — between Democrats — over whether to fund abortion providers through Medicaid, to conflicts over (stop me if you’ve heard this one) budgets and spending.

So forgive me if the wailing from the left leaves me unmoved.

But the rank hypocrisy doesn’t end just at government shutdowns. The debt ceiling has been a constant conflict between Republicans and Democrats since President Barack Obama took office, and we are once again bumping up against the debt limit.

Democrats are adamant that failing to raise the debt limit would be catastrophic and would immediately plunge the United States into default, crashing worldwide markets and inviting the biblical four horsemen to Washington.

And yet, in 2006, then-Sen. Obama had this to say during a vote to raise the debt ceiling:

“Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.”

I wonder if he still considers “the reason we are here” to be a failure of leadership, this time his own. For the record, the 2006 federal budget deficit was “only” $248.2 billion. Obama’s first budget had a deficit of $1.293 trillion, or more than a trillion dollars more than 2006.

For anyone keeping score, by the way, April 29, 2009, was the last time the Senate passed a budget resolution that was enacted into law, and the manufactured budget crises that have existed since then have all been made possible by the Democratic Senate’s lack of interest in passing a budget.

In any event, the president’s very clear statement that debt is a horrendous weight around the necks of the American people, and that it is wrong to pile more of it upon our children, stands in stark contrast to what he says now. No longer is debt an unacceptable weight or a failure of leadership. Now it is so vitally important that we must accept it, lest the economy implode.

The fact of the matter is that the Democrats have had a remarkable history of “do as I say, not as I do.” While this is true of all politicians, it is especially glaring today of Democrats, given how much and how arrogantly they lecture us about the need to do what they want.

The president was right about one thing, though. The current mess is, in fact, a failure of leadership. It has been his unwillingness and disinterest in confronting spending and debt in any kind of serious way, and his defense of the status quo, that has brought us here.

Democrats will point to the deficit being “at its lowest point in five years” and somehow claim it is the result of a bold leader saving the American economy. The rest of us realize that five years ago, the deficit was already at an unacceptably high level (and much higher than the debt Sen. Obama opposed in 2006), and that such “good news” was entirely unexpected and temporary, driven by higher-than-expected tax revenues and an increase in payments to the Treasury by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Democrat and Republican presidents of the past have been able to effectively make their peace with the fact that they are not the only voices in Washington, and the wishes of a party opposite them has power that must be dealt with.

Bill Clinton certainly knew that, which is why he fought with Republicans but then worked to incorporate their ideas with his and come up with a compromise that everyone can live with. Why can’t Obama?

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.