Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost
The path Obama selected had been hacked out of the forest by Herbert Hoover's administration; it's the path that led to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Recently the path has been popularized by conservatives and their allies in the corporate media. It's the path championed by Sarah Palin, Wall Street banks, FoxNews, network news commentators and newspaper columnists, and every presidential contender in the Republican Party. The path leads to continued high unemployment and low wages as far as anyone who understands the basic principles of economics can see. Obama chose the path of continued high unemployment.
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Republicans may have built the road, but Obama claims he's a better driver. In the interest of "fairness," the president tells us he will close some loopholes in the tax code, raise some taxes. It's true this will help to pay for the journey. But as long as Obama leads the country down Austerity Road, raising taxes on the rich won't change the destination. At best, an overall decrease in government spending that includes a tax increase will spare some jobs. It means Obama won't need to travel so far down Austerity Road to achieve a given level of deficit reduction. It doesn't mean the unemployment level will subside.
In a year, some brilliant pundit will look at Obama's dismal poll numbers and say "it's the high unemployment stupid." Because by 2012 the jobs situation is unlikely to have improved. It could be worse -- even a lot worse. Obama won't be able to claim to have been dragged kicking and screaming down the wrong road. The crux of Obama's problem is that no matter how far Obama travels down the "slash spending" road, he'll be blamed for not having traveled it far enough. However far he agrees to go, they'll say he didn't go the distance. For example, supposing Obama negotiates a tax increase, this fact will later be used against him. "Your tax increases slowed our journey down Austerity Road," his Republican opponent will say. To the typical under-informed voter, the attack will seem reasonable, as Obama approved the destination and route.
Obama took the road well-traveled. By election time, that will have made all the difference.