When it comes to the administration's proposed budget, give the president credit for one thing. Traditional politics would have called for Barack Obama to run to the center in an election year. In the position in which Mr. Obama now finds himself -- economic stagnation, intransigent unemployment, business closures, a collapsed housing market, and a popular perception of gridlock in Washington -- a Bill Clinton might have been expected to recast himself as a "moderate," finding much on which he could agree with a Republican House.
Not Mr. Obama. No sheep's clothing for him.
Monday, the president proposed a budget that forecasts the deficit for fiscal year 2012 will top $1.3 trillion, before falling in 2013 to a still-whopping $901 billion, still 5.5 percent of gross domestic product.
Yes, by 2022 the deficit is forecast to fall to a "mere" $704 billion, a hypothetical 2.8 percent of GDP. But given that this budget is close to a work of fantasy even for 2012 -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won't expose the 14 Democratic senators now up for re-election to the political repercussions of voting on it -- making promises about 2022, long after Mr. Obama will be out of office, verges on the absurd.
The best thing about this spending draft is that Mr. Obama does not pretend that he and his fellow Democrats are anything but what they are -- big spenders on a scale never before seen in history.
Are Republicans perfect in resisting this siren song? Far from it. But instead of congratulating and joining with younger House Republicans who have come up with multiple proposals to reduce America's stifling tax and regulatory burdens, the game here, clearly, is to call for increased spending while blaming the loyal opposition in toto for their "intransigence" when they refuse to "tax the rich" to pay for it all.
This despite the fact that, at his "fiscal responsibility summit" in 2009, Mr. Obama pledged to "cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office" by making "difficult decisions ... that we've long neglected" -- specifically, by "getting our spending under control."
Consider this: Only five years ago, in fiscal 2007, the federal budget totaled $2.73 trillion, and the budget deficit was a paltry $161 billion, just 1.2 percent of GDP. Under the president's 2013 budget, federal spending will have increased 40 percent in just six years.
There is daring, here. President Obama appears to calculate that a majority of Americans favor tax hikes, since they see themselves not as the ones who will pay those taxes (nearly half of Americans pay no income taxes, already), but as the beneficiaries of any scheme to "loot the rich, and give all the goodies to us."
It can't work, of course. Greece and Italy and Portugal point the way to where endless borrowing to prop up a huge regulatory bureaucracy can lead. But the president figures that for nine more months, at least, he can demonize "the rich" and bamboozle a working majority of America voters into channeling that redistributionist spirit.
Time will tell.