FrontPage | 2.28.12
By Alan W. Dowd

As the Republican field heads into the decisive stretch of primaries, the eventual nominee needs to begin focusing his message. The past several weeks have seen top GOP candidates waste time and energy on a range of secondary issues, launch friendly fire at one another and get mired in minutia. Governor Romney, for instance, famously has a 59-point plan on the economy. Speaker Gingrich’s blessing and curse is his fount of endless ideas, innovations, plans and proposals. And Senator Santorum has been drawn deep into the weeds by the president’s surrogates and Big Media allies over the Affordable Care Act’s brute-force mandate requiring religious employers to cover certain forms of contraception in violation of their faith. Along the way, the president and his allies have changed the terms of debate from the real issue—religious liberty, a debate the president loses—to what kinds of contraception are alright, a debate the president wins. 

These are not winning strategies against President Obama. Instead, it’s time to make—and keep—the message simple by focusing on three lines of attack.

On Inauguration Day, a gallon of gas cost $1.81. Today, the AAA national average is $3.70 per gallon. Industry experts predict $5-per-gallon gas in the near future.

Since the stuff that will power the U.S. economy after oil is simply not yet ready to shoulder the burden, the two-track goal should be maximum development of domestic oil reserves to enable America to reconfigure its supply base in the near term, and investments today in tomorrow’s “post-petro economy.”

Yet there’s been little more than talk from the president about jumpstarting nuclear energy, and an ocean of domestic oil remains untapped because of the president’s politics.

For instance, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that the Arctic may hold 90 billion barrels of oil. About a third of the oil is in Alaskan territory. But the EPA is using its power over air permits to block new drilling in Alaska. (The president’s EPA also handed down a regulation requiring coal plants in 27 states to cut emissions. The result is a tax on coal.) RAND estimates that Colorado, Utah and Wyoming sit atop a goldmine of oil-shale deposits. These states hold between 500 billion and 1.1 trillion recoverable barrels—the equivalent of three times the amount of oil in Saudi Arabia, according to an AP report. Already, the Canadian province of Alberta is converting its oil sands into 1.31 million barrels of oil per day. But the environmental lobby is staunchly opposed to oil sands and oil shale, which helps explain why the president opposed the Keystone XL pipeline extension (it would have carried oil derived from oil sands in Canada) and why his administration has reduced the acreage set aside for oil-shale development in the U.S. from 2 million to 462,000.

The GOP nominee should press this case and let voters decide if they want to join the president in chasing after a mirage of sun-powered cars and windmill-powered houses, or if they want more oil from the U.S. and Canada—and cheaper energy as a result.

As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, President Obama’s term includes the highest spending years since 1946. During President Obama’s term, Washington has added $5 trillion in debt. The federal government has spent more than 24 percent of GDP in each of President Obama’s years in the White House, far above the historic average of 20 percent. And each and every year he has been in office, President Obama has carried a deficit above $1 trillion—an unprecedented feat.

To achieve that dubious record, the president wasted $862 billion on a stimulus that stimulated nothing but the government sector. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the stimulus package “increased the number of people employed by between 1.2 million and 2.8 million.” At $862 billion, 2.8 million jobs is not a very good return on investment.

The president spawned a $1-trillion healthcare behemoth that will surely grow bigger than his actuaries predict. Even in good economic times, even for a country with its fiscal house in order, launching such a large-scale program would be a dicey proposition. But to do so in the midst of the worst economy in 30 years—a year after adding an unprecedented $1.4 trillion in deficit spending to an already-massive national debt—was downright dangerous.

The drag ObamaCare will place on the economy is only now coming into focus. The CBO projects that the IRS will need 17,000 new employees to enforce elements of the healthcare law. The president’s healthcare takeover creates 159 new sub-agencies, committees, bureaus and commissions, each with a regulatory role. All told, according to a Washington Post analysis, between 100,000 and 250,000 new government employees are needed to meet the growing demands of President Obama’s supersized government.

Given that Washington found a way to grow by 25 percent during the Age of Obama, a simple, straightforward proposal by the GOP nominee to return spending to 2008 levels would make good economic sense and would seem eminently sensible to most voters.

Another idea the GOP nominee should explore is embracing the recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which was created by President Obama. After the blue-ribbon panel offered several solutions to Washington’s fiscal crisis, the president promptly tossed them in the circular file. One is left to wonder why the president wasted time and political capital appointing the commission in the first place. That’s a question the GOP nominee should ask—and ask often. Imagine this line of attack: “The president ignored his own commission’s recommendations to rein in spending. I will turn those recommendations into law and turn our nation’s disastrous fiscal situation around. Barack Obama talked about our fiscal crisis. I will do something about it.”

While on the subject of fiscal responsibility, the nominee should point out how reckless the president has been about defense spending. The reality is that the Armed Forces are not to blame for the budget-deficit mess. As then-Defense Secretary Gates warned in one of his last addresses, “I have long believed—and I still do—that the defense budget, however large it may be, is not the cause of this country’s fiscal woes....When President Eisenhower warned of the ‘Military Industrial Complex’ in 1961, defense consumed more than half the federal budget, and the portion of the nation’s economic output devoted to the military was about 9 percent. By comparison, this year’s base defense budget…represents less than 15 percent of all federal spending and equates to roughly three and a half percent of GDP.”

But the president won’t be confused by the facts. Instead, he recently embraced plans for a massive defense cut of $487 billion. Many forget that the Pentagon had already coughed up $400 billion in cuts, which the president ordered in 2010-11.

There will be consequences. Even Defense Secretary Panetta concedes that the cuts will create “risks.” His predecessor explained the risks and consequences in philosophical terms: “If we are going to reduce the resources and the size of the U.S. military,” Secretary Gates warned, “people need to make conscious choices about what the implications are for the security of the country…The tough choices ahead are really about the kind of role the American people—accustomed to unquestioned military dominance for the past two decades—want their country to play in the world.”

In other words, there’s a cost to maintaining a peerless power-projecting military, but there’s also a cost to not doing so. The GOP nominee should talk about the choices and the costs.

U.S. Leadership
That brings us to global leadership. President Obama deserves credit for eliminating Osama bin Laden. It was decisive and bold. But it also was an anomaly, as we now know.

This is, after all, the administration that found a way to lead in two directions in Egypt. Recall that his secretary of state and vice president initially offered strong support for Hosni Mubarak, before the president pulled the rug out from under America’s longtime ally.

When not leading in two directions, the president is not leading at all. Iran in 2009 and Syria today are cases in point. In response to Iran’s Twitter Revolution in 2009, President Obama sat silent. The sad irony of his non-response to the stirrings of revolution in Iran was that it answered his own rhetorical question of a year before, albeit in a manner his supporters would never have imagined. “Will we stand for the human rights of…the blogger in Iran?” he asked. The Iranian people know the answer.

Likewise, in Syria—one of those unique cases where conscience and national interest overlap—the president has been inexplicably silent and inactive. Instead, the Turks and the Arab League are leading the way.

The president also has led in the wrong direction at times, as in Afghanistan (where his commanders got far fewer troops than they requested and were given far less time than they were initially promised), Iraq (where his commanders’ advice to leave behind a stabilizing force was ignored) and Eastern Europe. The president desperately wanted to ink an arms control treaty of questionable merit with Russia, so he scrapped plans for a permanent defense against missile threats in Eastern Europe—plans that had been endorsed by NATO and by host governments in Poland and the Czech Republic. A Polish defense official called the decision “catastrophic.” And a Czech official angrily rejected the president’s new plan as “a consolation prize.”

Finally, this president seems most comfortable with “leading from behind,” as one administration official describes the Obama Doctrine. This form of non-leadership was showcased during NATO’s eight-month-long air war over Libya. As Britain and France strained to try to do what the United States used to do effortlessly, the White House talked about a “time-limited, scope-limited” mission; the president promised that America’s military would play a “supporting role” while its allies staggered; and incredibly—laughably, if it were not a matter of life and death—when NATO asked Washington to extend air operations at one critical point in the mission, a NATO official took pains to emphasize that the extension of U.S. air power “expires on Monday.”

That’s what passes for U.S. leadership under this president, and voters need to understand this.