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“My next-door neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this current administration.” ~ Gary Johnson

One hazard of a one-liner when you’re a candidate is that reporters love to get you, so they’ll do some research to find out if the joke is yours or not. When they find out it’s not yours, the new story might be whether it’s okay to tell unoriginal jokes in a presidential debate. Since Gary Johnson is not in the lead or close to it, the press is going to give him a pass. Even Ronald Reagan told unoriginal jokes from time to time.

The greater hazard is for President Obama, of course. He wanted to jolt the nation’s economy with so-called stimulus funds, but mostly he shocked taxpayers with his willingness to spend their money on various projects and programs that benefit Democratic constituencies. For shovel-ready, read vote-ready or cudgel-ready. The Wisconsin teachers show what happens when you cross a Democratic constituency that’s well paid. That’s not to say a Republican constituency would have behaved differently. We all seem to enjoy money in our checking account when it comes from the public treasury.

President Obama’s problem is that he oversold his stimulus bill, and now he’s mocked for it. Add in the bank bailout, which he implicitly supported when he appointed Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary. Add General Motors and Chrysler, two more bailouts with a bad odor no matter what the companies’ fortunes might be. Then add Solyndra for five hundred million dollars – such a classic of government corruption that you can’t find anything more to say about it.

Lastly add another stimulus bill, a second plan to create jobs that looks remarkably similar to the first one. Stimulus didn’t work the first time? Let’s try some more. Let’s invite Paul Krugman to dinner to find out what we should spend the second time around. Too little, and you don’t get reelected because your base on the left has deserted  you. Too much, and you don’t get reelected because the Tea Party denounces you left, right, and crossways. Just right, and you still don’t get reelected because independent voters still don’t have jobs.

All these unhappy results come from a president who promised openness, transparency, fidelity to our founding principles of equal treatment for everyone. It’s a corrosive thing to make big promises, followed by big betrayals of your own appeals. Barack Obama won his rock star status in 2008 the hard way. He fought a hard campaign against Hillary Clinton, and continued fighting right through to Inauguration Day. He scolded Americans a bit in his inaugural address, yet many who listened to him wished success for their new president, and harbored some optimism for their troubled country.

A leader who takes the oath of office under those circumstances doesn’t have to make good on every promise uttered during a long campaign. A president can’t even select shovel ready projects – decision makers in state and local governments do that. If you violate the spirit of your rhetoric, however – if you show that your own ideals and your own vision don’t even mean that much to you, you’ll be mocked and your supporters will stay home. Why should I work to reelect him, a citizen asks, when he puts his own career ahead of me? Why should I follow a leader who appeals to unity, but who acts just as divisively as the people he criticizes? When he has to make a choice between his party and his rhetoric, he chooses his party every time.

Bring out the shovels. We have a lot of s–t to move.

Originally published September 27, 2011