Saturday, April 4, 2009

Barack’s Continental Coolness

If nothing else, the president’s trip overseas helped resolve the longstanding question of who can be more irritating, the Republicans or the French.

I think that's an easy one, but, that's just me, I suppose.

Back home, we’re just grateful that we don’t have to sit on the edge of our collective seats wondering how the president will embarrass us next. No more worrying that our chief executive might surprise Angela Merkel with a come-from-behind massage or fall in love with the president of Russia when their eyes meet across a crowded room.

W looked inot Vlad's eyes, and, biy, was he wrong.

In London, Obama was the most popular guy in the gang. When President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and China’s Hu Jintao got into a squabble, Obama took them off to separate corners and resolved the conflict, to universal applause. True, it only required switching the word “recognizing” to “note,” but in diplomatic circles, that’s what cool is all about.

Kudos to the American prez.

And then it was off to France, where the Michelle-mania spiked as the first lady and her French counterpart, the former fashion model Carla Bruni, went outfit-to-outfit. They both had bows on their coats! The wardrobe commentary was, to be honest, a bit much. However, perhaps we should be grateful to the wives for changing their clothes so frequently. It took our minds off the unemployment figures and allowed the news media to avoid having to cover the discussions on special drawing rights.

Before the summit began, Sarkozy had threatened to walk out unless he got his way on financial regulation. (When considering our French-versus-Republican contest, note that they both like to go into negotiations announcing that whatever happens, the answer is no.) But once Obama and he got together, the French leader said that despite their differences, his American counterpart was still “entirely in line with whatwe want.”

Sarko was blowing hot air, but Barack is too cool for that.

To be fair, the French, the Germans and the other heel-dragging countries have some reason to be dubious about getting too close to Obama in anything but a photo op. The Europeans don’t really trust American presidents to deliver on what they say, particularly if it has to go through Congress.

Democracy does have a cost.

While the G-20 was finishing its business, members of Congress were showing how they did theirs by passing a budget resolution. The spending plan was somewhat smaller than the president had requested. The Senate also added the Republican priority of reducing taxes on people who inherit estates of $7 million or more — a move that would increase the deficit while stimulating the economy approximately as much as eliminating a sales tax on square potato chips.

So the Dems agreed to reduce taxes on estates of more than $7 million, which, one supposes, is middle-class tax relief (in some sense).

But even so, not a single Republican voted yes on the budget. In the House, the G.O.P. came up with an alternative that would cut more taxes for the wealthy while clamping down on nondefense spending. House Republicans think we invest way too much on these government programs and try to cut back on them every single year that their party is not actually in power.

And the Republicans, with a Republican priority inserted into the budget, voted no.

In the Senate, Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire predicted that the budget plan “will absolutely put this country on an unsustainable path.” This would be the same Judd Gregg who agreed to join the Obama cabinet as commerce secretary before a last-minute discovery that the president is a Democrat.

Absolutely? Is this a Republican who supported George W. Bush for eight years of unrestrained spending, much of it off the budget?

Actually, it’s no contest when you think about it. The French aren’t even in the ballpark.

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