President Obama participated in the traditional presidential report as to the state of the American union on Tuesday night in a speech sub-titled, “Winning The Future”. I took it as my civic duty to watch the entire speech and the Republican retort by Representative Paul Ryan. As expected, it was an excruciating process; the President’s speech came in at over an hour and meandered more than the Mississippi delta. It was, however, an opportunity for the President to put in front of the American people his philosophic overview of our nation’s acute problems and his particular solutions.
I am disappointed to say I saw nothing new in his approach, or his understanding of the problem, to the detriment of us all.
1) “Working Together” – the President noted the need to find bi-partisan solutions for our nation’s ills; decent enough of him. Unfortunately he spent the last two years in isolated discourse with his democratic cadre in congress leading to bill after bill of unvetted bilge, crowned by the singularly disastrous healthcare initiative that hugely effects our future with not a single republican interaction permitted, or available review prior to passage by the public.
2) “Encouraging American Innovation” – the President describes the American innovative spirit as untamed; “None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from. “ He then proceeds to inform us the it is the prerogative of the government to orient that “spirit” into specific areas such as high speed railroads, biomedical research, and clean energy technology, regardless of the market demand, the direction of innovation, or the lack of clarity as to future need. Free enterprise without the freedom to vet ideas on their merits. That’s pretty much the ideal of central planning that Hayek warned us about.
3)”Targeted Investment” – The President sees despite the soaring debt a need to continue “investment” in education, infrastructure, and innovation. This type of investment used to be referred to as spending. A one trillion dollar stimulus package passed in 2009 with target investment in -you guessed it- education, infrastructure, and innovation. Investment is something people and companies do in order to attain a future profit. Now, we can all argue the relative merits of spending money on education, infrastructure, and innovation; but nobody can argue it remains anything more than just spending – the unemployment level nationally continues to trend at ten percent, and in the past two years over three trillion dollars have been added to the national debt. The last thing we need is any more of that kind of investment.
4) ” A Mountain of Debt” – the President acknowledged that it was critical to make inroads on our swelling debt, before it swallows us whole. His solution? Freeze the budget’s annual domestic spending for five years for a saving of 400 billion dollars , at the level that is currently adding to the debt at 1.5 trillion dollars a year. No comments about the monster in the attic, entitlements. It was announced today that Social Security will be in the red for 2011, five years ahead of the expected date of 2016, after having always operated in the black. Additionally, ” I recognize that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. And let’s make sure that what we’re cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact.” Okay, now we will get aggressive about cutting but not in any of the areas we care about. I have an additional analogy to the plane analogy used by the President. His logic is more like the individual who thinks he is cutting back when he substitutes diet coke for the real thing while super sizing his fries order. It may psychologically make you feel you’re showing control over your diet, but really, you are only kidding yourself.
5) “Winning The Future” – I am afraid the President has never escaped from campaign mode, and is struggling with the fact that vacuous cliches like “hope and change” lose their power when the responsibilities of hard governing intervene. I would like to win the future, but its going to have to be one where the cold hard facts are faced in the present.