Imagine a day President Obama enters Oprah Winfrey's public confessional:
Oprah: As you know, Mr. President, I was one of your supporters. This is a difficult interview for me. Americans have many questions. Let's go back to the start of your second term.
It was a time of partisan division — the fiscal cliff and the debt-limit fights. The economic recovery was anemic at best. Your calls for unity in confronting those challenges were fervent.
You talked about a "balanced" budgeting approach but, as we came to see, your "balanced" cuts weren't cuts at all. When the unfunded off-budget liabilities for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and federal pensions hit hard and inflation took our debt to unsustainable levels, the forced austerity crippled our economy. As you know, America has not yet even begun to recover.
At your first second-term news conference, you were confronted with what you said in March 2006 as senator:
"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our government's reckless fiscal policies.
" ... Leadership means that 'the buck stops here.' Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America's debt limit."
When President George W. Bush wanted to extend the debt ceiling, you and your fellow Democrats unanimously voted against the raise, demanding that Congress pay for what it spends. But when you were president you said that was "an example of a new senator making what is a political vote as opposed to doing what was important for the country."
In retrospect, we now know that reckless spending and exploding debt has had dire consequences. What do you say now?
Obama: Clearly, history has proved me wrong.
Oprah: You had to be aware of the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that warned, "absent policy changes ... the federal government continues to face an unsustainable fiscal path."
You continued to say you were for "balancing the budget," but spending and the deficit went up every year.
You blamed Republicans for demanding "spending cuts" that were truly only decreases in budget increases. You had to know this spending was unsustainable. Were you lying?
Obama: I initially believed that a government stimulus was necessary. Once we acted, we had to consistently sell the solution to avoid unleashing more uncertainty even when the economic numbers remained anemic.
Oprah: So you continued to lie about the depth of the problem?
Obama: It wasn't a series of lies. It was one big spin repeated many times.
Oprah: You had to know that was wrong?
Obama: At the time? No. It's scary, isn't it? In Washington, lies are expected. We call it spin. Americans can't handle the truth. Or at least, that's how we governed. Bush outspent Clinton! I outspent Bush.
Oprah: It's not wrong because everyone does it?
Obama: I didn't invent the Potomac culture but I didn't stop it, either. It's just what is expected to get elected and stay in power. If you give people more goodies and have someone else pay, you're kept in office.
Oprah: Why the mea culpa now?
Obama: I don't know that I have a great answer for that. I realize that my admission comes too late to negate the damage done.
Oprah: Do you wish you could go back to start your second term again?
Obama: If only I could?
Mr. President, you can! Challenge Washington to make the tough choices to hold the line on spending. Cut where you can; spend where you must. Stop blaming and start leading.