Turbulent times often cause Western opinion leaders to seek out appropriate Winston Churchill quotes. Perhaps a few of Sir Winston’s observations would be useful to President Barack Obama in the aftermath of the midterm elections as a weak economic recovery and problematic actors abroad threaten to cloud his prospects for re-election in 2012.
On confiscatory taxation: “The idea that a nation can tax itself into prosperity is one of the cruelest delusions which has befuddled the human mind.”
Hopefully, the resentment of the president’s acquiescence on extending the Bush-era tax rates is short-lived, for a clear majority of Americans now share Churchill’s correct perception regarding taxes and economic prosperity.
On unemployment and the welfare state: “We must try to seek the remedies of the disease, not merely the remedies for the symptoms.”
The current debate over extension of unemployment benefits is the classic vehicle for today’s class warriors. In fact, prior to the announcement of the “Great Compromise” between the president and congressional Republicans, Vice President Joe Biden and other senior Democrats played the rhetorical game bemoaning cold-hearted Republicans willing to let poor people starve (i.e., lose their unemployment benefits) in order to secure tax breaks for their millionaire friends.
Similar class warfare rhetoric accompanied passage of federal welfare reform in 1996; fortunately, the specter of thousands of starving Americans on the streets because their five years of federal benefits were up never materialized. “Remedies for symptoms” should have expiration dates.
President Bill Clinton understood this truism when he signed the welfare bill crafted by a Republican Congress. In the process, he gained credibility with mainstream America.
Similarly, President Obama can take advantage of lower political expectations by working with an ascendant GOP majority in the House to achieve “remedies for the disease” — comprehensive tax reform and real spending restraint. Winston would be proud.
On appeasement: “An appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile hoping it will eat him last.”
The president’s trips abroad (characterized in various quarters as “apology tours”) have had little positive impact on the problem children of the world. A nuclear Iran has alarmed Israel, our allies in Europe, and many Arab neighbors in the Middle East. Recent aggression by North Korea has again rattled the Korean peninsula, and China has shown little or no willingness to make its brutal client state behave in an orderly way. Dreams of a “nuclear-free world” are misplaced in light of so many aggressive moves by hostile regimes.
In the 1930s, it was the never-politically correct Churchill who warned that the English-speaking world and communism would constitute the great opposing forces of the future. A similar Obama declaration regarding democracies and despotic terror regimes might further antagonize the hard left, but would be a welcome sign of strength in the approximately 40 states that lie between the coasts.
Churchill, like all political leaders, had flaws. His ability to successfully think and operate outside his political comfort zone, however, is unmatched in recent political history. President Obama would do well to catch up with Churchill’s tried and true wisdom. It might even help his election prospects during what promises to be a tumultuous next two years.
Robert Ehrlich is the former governor of Virginia.