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Obama and SimCity

January 24, 2011 - Rob Weaver
President Barack Obama is to deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday night, which marks the half-way point of his current term as the nation’s chief executive. I’ll use this occasion to predict the tone of his next two years in office will be different than the first two.

In essence, expect to meet President Obama, the moderate, compromising, crowd-pleasing candidate for re-election.

Permit me to explain. First, some background.

SimCity is a city-building computer game dating back to mid-’80s. If memory serves, the first version may have been made for Commodore 64 (as in 64K -- that’s right, an entire computer operating on 64 kilobytes of RAM).

As I recall, the player took on the role of mayor/city manager/urban planner and zoned areas of the simulated city for residential, commercial, industrial or agricultural use. Among other duties, the player had to set tax rates high enough to maintain infrastructure and city services, and meanwhile maintain a popularity rating high enough to stay in office.

One of the quirks of the earlier version allowed players to set an excessively high tax rate for a few years -- providing plenty of revenue to maintain and develop the city -- then drop the tax rate to zero in the last year of an election cycle.

I don’t know whether Obama played the game, but that isn’t relevant; I predict he will employ the early SimCity strategy mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

In fact, he already has started. His current term was front-loaded with burdensome legislative and executive actions; the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, sweeping health care legislation, and approved-in-concept-but-still-in-development financial industry reform. The public debt grew as much during his first two years in office as it did during President George W. Bush’s entire 8-year run.

Last month, though came the tax cut ... or at least the two-year extension of Bush-era tax cuts, even for The Rich, along with a deal on the estate tax, in exchange for a 13-month extension of jobless benefits. Workers also got a break on their share of the payroll tax for Social Security.

I’ll be watching Obama’s address Tuesday with an ear tuned for more movement to the middle of the road. For the next two years of his presidency, he’ll have to work with a divided Congress, which provides plenty of cover for a new-found spirit of compromise and moderate policies.

If that were to happen, his approval rating would rise. And the political game would tilt in his favor.

Of course, were he to win a second term, there would be no need to worry about currying public favor during the latter half of the election cycle. ...


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