Disconnecting the training wheels is a scary prospect for every apprentice biker, even with Daddy standing close by. We can sympathize with Barack Obama's fright as his moment approaches. It's not easy suddenly being on your own, paying the price of falling with your own skinned knees and bruised elbows.
Nevertheless, the dreadful moment approacheth. Anticipating D-Day, Peter Orszag, the president's budget director, said Monday that the scarier than expected economic news - the deficit out of control, tax receipts down and costs of bailouts and "stimulus" plans up - is all the fault of George W. Bush: "It's an economic crisis President Obama inherited."
But Mr. Obama has already been president for more than a hundred days, and passing the hundred-day mark, irrelevant milestone as it may be, was cited as dead-solid proof that the president is the messiah he told everyone he was. Reality, however, has begun to cast a shadow over the White House, still as faint as the bright golden haze on the meadow but visible enough. "Blaming George" still makes a tingle run up the legs of all the hymn-singing true believers, but outside the embrace of the cult, that tingle is beginning to sting instead. This is Mr. Obama's government now.
The White House on Monday said the new estimate of the budget deficit would nearly reach $2 trillion - that's trillion, with a "t" - and that's nearly 13 percent of the entire gross domestic product. Pretty gross any way you spin it, and the president's men (and women) are spinning it as best they can. Alas, the country's predicament, if not yet the president's, is probably worse than it looks.
The projected budget deficit is four times larger than the deficit record set last year. We can blame that one on George, but George, big spender that he was, turns out to have been a tightwad. Maybe this is the "change" Mr. Obama promised. Yes, he did.
The administration insisted Monday that by the end of this year the gross domestic product will be growing at a rate of 3.5 percent, which would be good news so good that it's likely to be too good to be true, and it's certainly more optimistic than any private economic forecast anyone has seen beyond the White House fence.
The White House flogged this news in a statement studded with more weasel words than usual: "Although the economic downturn so far in 2009 has been more severe than the administration expected when the forecast was finalized, if the financial system begins to function more normally, there is every reason to expect a somewhat stronger recovery, given the depth of the current recession." Translation: "Don't blame us, nothing is ever the fault of the messiah, maybe everything will get a little better if it actually does get better. We hope. But don't count on it."
What shines through the spinning, bright and bold, is that Mr. Obama no longer believes in the pie in the sky he promised. He has obviously learned a few things in his first hundred days. "Wow! So that's where babies come from." But he still can't give up his teleprompter, his training wheels and good ol' George. Good ol' George is the president's teddy bear. He can't go to sleep without Teddy. George is his imaginary person, too, on whom he can blame everything. He feels very close to imaginary George.
George the imaginary person threatens everything Mr. Obama has in store for us - higher taxes (whether disguised as "user fees" or "investments"), Al Gore's vast scheme to combat global warming whether the globe is warming or not, and a health-care plan guaranteed to eventually assure every American access to medical care equal to the quality health care now available in France, Canada, Britain and maybe even Lower Volta.
The good news, such as it is, is that the remaking of America in a way that a Chicago street "activist" of a generation ago hardly dared dream of may be of such potent poison that the body politic will reject it, as a healthy human body might reject a massive dose of arsenic (perhaps administered by someone in old lace). Several of the president's Democratic allies in Congress are already balking at his scheme to extract killer taxes, such as curbing deductions for mortgage interest, gifts to churches and charities, and state and local taxes.
Soaking the rich, so-called, is OK, but marinating the rich may not be helpful. More than skinned knees and bruised elbows are in prospect as Barack Obama finally discovers that ready or not, he's the president now.