By Former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) - 04/25/13 09:41 PM EDT
The biggest problem facing Americans is a feeble economy. Yet, in the first 100 days of President Obama’s new term, he has turned his back on the economy. Instead he has sought to advance a series of liberal ideological battles — from gun control to amnesty for unlawful immigration — that divide rather than unite the nation.
It might please liberals, but it’s lousy leadership. Hardworking families struggling to make ends meet deserve better.
Not surprisingly, Obama appears to have lost the confidence of Americans that he can handle the economy. The New York Times reported in March that the public’s trust in him had cratered since December, falling by roughly 10 percentage points.
The president has clearly misinterpreted last November’s electoral results as a wholesale endorsement of his liberal agenda — an agenda kept largely under wraps throughout the campaign.
Obama ignored the basics: his obligation to submit a budget by Feb. 4. Instead, he let the deadline slip by two months, then presented a budget that was not worth the wait.
It canceled the meager spending cuts enacted under the Budget Control Act of 2011. Meanwhile, according to the Treasury Department’s “Green Book,” his budget would saddle taxpayers with a total net tax increase of more than $1.1 trillion over 10 years. This proposal came just months after a “fiscal cliff” deal that raised taxes by $618 billion. The attempt to go back for another huge bite of the tax-hike apple was fundamentally unserious as an economic proposal. Politically, it exposed Mr. “Balanced Approach” as the tax-and-spender he really is.
The president’s second mistake has been an attempt to govern as he campaigned — by demonizing the opposition and insisting the sky would fall unless Congress did as he said.
When forced to make small spending reductions required under the sequester, he green-lit the kinds of cuts best calculated to spark outrage. Did he slow down funding for wasteful programs or reduce funding for the implementation of ObamaCare that is raising healthcare costs? No. Instead he cut homeland security and released thousands of unlawful immigrants from jail, furloughed air traffic controllers to inconvenience travelers and halted White House tours for school kids.
But the old “Shutter the Statue of Liberty” ploy failed to generate the desired ire. People recognized it as cynical, political manipulation — and they resented it. They also learned they can, in fact, live in a world with spending cuts.
The president followed with yet another overreach: his call for stricter gun controls. But his attempt to capitalize on the Newtown massacre, using it to advance legislation that would have done nothing to prevent that tragedy, failed. Indeed, his demagoguery on the issue appears to have produced a backlash, not just in Congress but on Main Streets throughout America.
While Obama interpreted his reelection as a call for a more powerful and intrusive government, pollsters found just the opposite. The January survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that, for the first time ever, a majority of Americans (53 percent) feel the federal government now threatens their own personal rights and freedoms.
Why might they feel this way? The president can trace a lot of it to his signature “triumph:” ObamaCare. Most Americans don’t like being told they have to buy health insurance, much less what kinds of coverage they must buy. And they especially don’t like being told they need to offer and buy coverage that violates their religious beliefs.
ObamaCare never gained majority support among the American people, and as implementation proceeds, it’s becoming increasingly unpopular. Mounting announcements from businesses and universities that they will lay off workers, reduce work hours or drop current benefits to pay for ObamaCare don’t sit well in a still-weak economy.
It’s time for the president to respond to the pressing concerns of the American people who are being hurt in this economy. He could work with Congress to lower its tax burden, reduce unnecessary regulations that prevent job growth and cut spending on failed programs. For example, eliminating Head Start, a program proven to produce no lasting benefits, could save $8 billion annually. Campaigning is a matter of divide and conquer. Governing is a matter of uniting and leading. Its time for Obama to focus on good governance.
DeMint is president of The Heritage Foundation and a former senator from South Carolina.