op-ed

Hail to the hobgoblin

Theo Caldwell Investor and Broadcaster

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously and aptly observed that, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Coming from his essay, “Self-Reliance,” the full quotation asserts such folly is “adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

As if further proof of Emerson’s wisdom and foresight were needed, along comes America’s divine philosopher, President Barack Obama, abetted by his band of little statesmen, presenting yet another misbegotten plan to tax and spend — perfectly consistent with his foolish policies to date.

Following on a disastrous trillion-dollar “stimulus” plan, along with job-killing regulations across the land, the president now promises more of the same, including $1.5 trillion in new taxes. And as though government had not grown enough under his watch, he proposes that nanny state programs be expanded, proving once and for all that “Self-Reliance” has no place in Obama’s America.

At this point, Obama’s speeches practically write themselves. Each time he speaks, the only suspense lay in wondering just how big the tax bill will be. Full marks, as they say, for consistency.

The hobgoblin’s hallmark is a refusal to learn. But “little minds”? Really? Can we say such a thing about Obama and our betters at Harvard, NPR and The New York Times? Boy howdy (for the benefit of liberal readers, that means “yes”).

To abide on the left is to inhabit a little mind. Like a Manhattan studio apartment, there isn’t much space, so only the most cherished items are kept. There is no room for new ideas, only the single set of tired nostrums they inherited.

And so, in the parlance of William James, liberals simply rearrange their prejudices in lieu of thinking. Each iteration of Obama’s economic prescription bears this out, as new words are used to describe the same abysmal ideas.

“Stimulus” becomes a “jobs plan,” “tax hikes” become “revenue increases” and “government spending” becomes “investment.”

This president doesn’t have a plan, he has a thesaurus. But this is the way of the left — liberals know only one way of looking at the world, and all their years marinating in news rooms, or the academy or at Starbucks are spent coming up with novel and clever ways to say the same dopey things.

To wit, taxes always need to be higher, the rich are always wrong, Republicans are always stupid, Christianity is for cranks and everything is all America’s fault.

I think it saves time to forego the common conservative courtesy of pretending liberals are intelligent just because, well, everyone says so. Even if this were true, it’s irrelevant so long as the left refuses to look at issues from any side but their own. This is why you find supposedly brilliant leftists observing a demonstrable and conventional conservative notion — such as, lower tax rates can lead to higher revenue — with the same screeching suspicion as the prehistoric primates beholding the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

But in case it’s helpful, let’s revisit this notion of superior liberal intelligence one more time. After years of scrutiny and contemplation, I consider this president, along with Joe Biden and the vast majority of Obama’s cabinet, individually and collectively, to be dumb as a sack of doorknobs.

The grand prize for fatuity goes to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano — a “man-caused disaster” in her own right and the most malign and breathtaking imbecile in American public life.

As the Obama administration’s fecklessness applies to the economy, this one-note approach is doing real and perhaps permanent damage to America. Increased government spending, debt and taxes have been tried and found wanting. Their outright refusal to contemplate a new paradigm, even as their own has failed so obviously and spectacularly, reveals unfathomable selfishness and intellectual vanity.

Much is made of the fact that none of Obama’s inner circle has ever run a private business, and that’s fair enough, so far as it goes. This would not be dispositive, however, if these folks showed at least some willingness to adapt and learn. It’s not just “experience” that matters — it’s judgment, too.

A person can “experience” something for ages but still reach the wrong conclusions. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for example, has business “experience” to beat the band, but he has not the first clue about personal freedom or the proper role of government.

But even as unemployment soars and markets crash, Obama seems to imagine he has the country on his side — or, at least, that he can sway the national mood with just one more speech. Before seeing his poll numbers smacked by the debt ceiling negotiations, Obama reportedly warned Republican Rep. Eric Cantor that he would take his case, “to the American people,” as though this would turn the tide.

A similar attitude was on display when Obama addressed a joint session of Congress recently, suggesting there would be serious consequences if they did not pass his bill promptly. “I intend to take that message to every corner of the country,” the president ominously intoned, giving a stern look to all assembled.

Does Obama think he’s threatening anyone with this sort of talk? We are told that the presidency is a bubble, but is Obama so isolated that he is completely unaware of the punch-line he has become?

What politician up for election in 2012 is frightened of having to run against Obama’s record or cowed by the prospect that he may deploy another speech? Seriously, is Obama still taken by his own “I’m LeBron, baby” braggadocio?

Until recently, many of us who considered Obama to be a plodding, humorless, lousy speaker were like the early Christians, communicating our beliefs in no more than a whisper, since the consequences of being found out just weren’t worth the hassle. Now, though, everyone is coming to this realization and, as we long-time critics come blinking out of the catacombs, we say to our new friends, especially you independent voters, “Welcome.”

Of course, hectoring speeches can be forgiven if the substance is sound. Obama, though, offers the worst of both worlds. You can teleprompt bad ideas ’til the cows come home, but that doesn’t make them right.

There is no solution other than for America to elect a new president. As to who that will be, we cannot know, but in choosing a chief executive, the country has nowhere to go but up. Mitt Romney’s tax reform policy is limp — it’s basically Jon Huntsman’s plan without the sanctimony and Mandarin-speaking — and Rick Perry’s has yet to be revealed.

But any available candidate at least offers the hope that America will shake off the hobgoblin of foolish consistency and try something new.

Theo Caldwell, an international investor and broadcaster, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at theo@theocaldwell.com.