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Posts tagged “State of the Union

A Nation Without Hope


There are very few things if which I’m certain. One thing of which I fairly sure is that the political mood of the country is one of anger, driven by fear and angst. These emotions feed upon themselves and if not checked, they become self-replicating and self-fulfilling. If unchecked, the societal impact is not hard to measure. In fact, human history is replete with examples of societies that acquiesced to fear – and in the process destroyed themselves. People of my generation witnessed the self-immolation of Communism. Our parents saw the rise and fall of Fascism. Their parents witnessed the end of Absolute Monarchs. Those political systems were often imposed upon the national populations that fell under their thrall, but society in those countries willingly accepted them.

Fascism and Communism rose to prominence on the backs of charismatic leaders who were willing to demonize segments of the population during times when the general population was genuinely afraid of losing their ability to provide the most basic economic needs and afraid of losing their national identity. In Germany, Adolph Hitler castigated the Jewish population and the allies of the Great War – while promising a path to prosperity rooted in the nation’s militaristic past. In Italy, Benito Mussolini promised to curb the “criminal element” and restore the Roman Empire. Lenin inspired the Red Russians by castigating the White Russians as, ironically, agents of oppression to a populace that for centuries had been oppressed.

The United States was not immune to the social upheavals that led to these dictators rise to power. Our one advantage was seemingly being blessed by having leaders rise to dispel the notion of fear, replacing it with a an optimism borne of hope. From the very beginning, our nation has found itself rescued by leaders who believed that whatever the current troubles, our best days were ahead of us. Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton all shared a vision of a nation whose best days were yet to come – and were able to articulate and communicate that vision to the general population. These men all pursued different policy directions, but delivered similar results. What binds them to one another is optimism and hope; their ability to overcome not only their personal fears but those of the nation.

Now consider the political leadership we have today, and have had for the first 12 years of this century. The actions taken by the political leadership of both major parties in responding to public fears have only worked to enhance those fears by giving them legitimacy. The Patriot Act, the TSA, the Wall Street Bailout, the Stimulus – all were the result of the public fear about the dramatic events that have taken place. But they have done nothing to alleviate those fears. No, if anything, they have only served to exacerbate them – turning a nation that was more unified on September 12, 2001 than at any time in the previous 60 years into one that is more divided than at any time since the Civil War.

This is the current political landscape: the Commander-in-Chief, instead of building on his election themes of “Hope and Change” and “Yes, We Can” now resorts to using the type of language that would make Lenin proud. He has found his scapegoat: the wealthiest among us, whose “greed and corruption brought about the worst economic catastrophe in three generations.” In his latest national address, last week’s State of the Union, he not only exhorted us to follow the type of robotic obedience for which the military is often miscast, but to grant him the level of control over local matters that any dictator needs. Sadly, the opposition party is led by a cast of characters that alternates between demonizing immigrant minorities, Jews, and pretty much any other ethnic group that can generate a few headlines. On the campaign stump, the current crop of presidential hopefuls extolls the virtues of fear and hate, lambasting one another for not being “conservative enough” while forgetting the true meaning of “conservative.” Indeed, our national politics now rely on fear to such a degree the principle argument of each party is to beware what the other party will do toyou.

The reality is that our nation is bereft of leadership. The modern politician, in a clamor to gain the most votes he can, resorts to following rather than leading. President Obama, seeing polling numbers that indicate the majority of his “base” perceive unfettered capital as their enemy, adopts a socialist stance – even though he has amassed a personal fortune, in large part thanks to unfettered capital. His Republican challengers, seeing polls that indicate xenophobia and racism play well in among their base, use coded language to ingratiate themselves. Both sides in Congress read polls that say compromise is the surest way to face a primary challenge – and nothing gets done.

Throughout our history, we have had the good fortune to find leaders who were able to overcome our baser instincts. As mentioned, there have been national movements that preyed upon fear before: the “Know-Nothings,” the KKK, the anarchists, the Communists all came about because the nation feared losing the things that make us exceptional and failed to see a way to preserve them. Each movement was met by a national political leader who overcame that fear by pointing to descriptions of the US like this:

“Our country is a special place, because we Americans have always been sustained, through good times and bad, by a noble vision – a vision not only of what the world around us is today but what we as a free people can make it be tomorrow”

I still believe that our nation’s best days are indeed before us. In speaking with many of my friends, in reading the posts in on-line chat rooms, in seeing the undercurrent of thought and desire among my fellow citizens I know I am not alone. Yet, I also hear the dual fears of economic calamity and loss of national identity espoused on a regular basis. That our political leaders do not share the vision of hope through freedom, but rather a vision of despair and ruin with our only salvation being to turn from our national character, is the great tragedy of our age.

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SOTU Dissected


Would you trust this man?

Trust Me

Last night President Obama delivered his constitutionally-mandated State of the Union address. It was, of course, little more than the official start of his re-election campaign. Still, the 65 minutes he spent in the House well delivered more than a few interesting tidbits. I thought we could have some fun digging into the speech‘s rhetoric and laying bare the facts.

Obama: “We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising.”

This is the third SOTU address in which he floated the idea of ending oil subsidies. It’s also going to be the third time this falls on deaf ears. He couldn’t get this passed in 2009, when his party controlled the House and had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate – and that was with a specific legislation calling for $36.5 billion in energy taxes over ten years. The administration never followed up a similar proposal in last year’s SOTU with draft legislation. It seems equally doubtful that a candidate who received nearly $3 million in campaign donations from the oil industry (thus far) is in any rush to see this put into law. Further, we’ve seen the results of the investment in “green energy” companies like Solyndra. In blackjack, that’s the equivalent of “doubling-down” on a 9 when the dealer is showing an ace.

Obama: “Our health care law relies on a reformed private market, not a government program.”

Perhaps the President needs to go back and re-read that health care law. First of all, the reform relies primarily on an individual mandate, enforced through the IRS. If that enforcement doesn’t qualify as the biggest government program in history, then obviously I’m not as good a student of our nation’s history as I thought. And there are other, already existing programs that will be greatly expanded should the Supreme Court not throw the whole thing out this summer. For instance, Medicaid grows to cover anyone up to 138% of the official poverty line, which the CBO scored as requiring a funding increase of $434 billion per year. In and of itself, that would make Medicaid the single largest line item in the federal budget – and most state budgets, too.

Obama: “Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.”

This is a wonderful assertion, except that it ignores the reality of the federal budget. The Iraq campaign was financed entirely on debt. Ending that war doesn’t actually result in any savings, except in the strange and convoluted world of Washington finance. It just means we’re able to borrow less money and keep everything else funded at the same levels. Of course, the President largely ignored the problem of the federal debt, so I suppose he thinks keeping deficits at staggeringly high levels in order to score a few rhetorical points is money well spent.

Obama: “Through the power of our diplomacy a world that was once divided about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program now stands as one.”

I’m not sure which world he meant by this, but it obviously wasn’t this one. Yes, the European Union seems likely to join the US in applying stringent sanctions. But Russia and China have no intention of doing so, and both countries used their veto power in the UN to prevent that body from enforcing them. Besides, the sanctions will have limited effect on the Iranian economy, since the Iranians switched from accepting dollars and euros to rials or rubles. Just for good measure, Israel seems hell-bent on taking unilateral military action if they deem it necessary. It’s hardly the unified front the President presented.

Obama: “The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.”

Apparently, the President failed to read his latest NIE. In that document, the Taliban is expected to gain strength by using the ongoing talks to re-establish their legitimacy in the Afghani countryside while stalling until we pull out. This assertion is as hollow as LBJ’s that “the Government of South Vietnam has grown steadily stronger.” Of course, we all know well that turned out.

An overarching theme last night was the idea of economic “fairness.” As described by Mr. Obama, fairness is “an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” Yet, at no point did he actually outline how to make that a possibility. He suggested that millionaires aren’t paying their fair share of income taxes – yet according to the IRS the effective rate for those people is 26.5%. Only 10% of people making under $100,000 per year are paying a higher effective rate – and less than 5% of millionaires pay a lower rate. Thanks to that disparity, millionaires accounted for 36.5% of the federal government’s income. Unfair? You bet it is – but I doubt asking the 47% of Americans whose effective tax rate is negative to pony up is what the President had in mind when talking about “fairness.”

Finally, one thing was ominously missing from the speech: any discussion of individual freedom and liberty. The entire speech was a discussion of increasing the role and prominence of the federal government in our lives. “With or without this Congress, I will keep taking actions that help the economy grow,” declared the Mr. Obama. Quite frankly, I can’t think of a scarier statement by any President in our recent history. Putting aside the obvious constitutional questions raised by a President acting unilaterally, consider that some 13 million more Americans are looking for work since he assumed office and real GDP growth (accounting for inflation) is -7.3% over the same period, I don’t want this President touching the economy. Especially when he has demonstrated an incredible desire to amass power in the West Wing and during an election year.


SOTU? SNAFU


Tonight, President Obama will deliver his (hopefully final) State of the Union address. Since I imagine you have better things to do, I thought I would give you the Cliff’s Notes version now.

1. The economy, despite Tea Party intransigence, is gaining momentum. Only 21 million of you are looking for a real job now, when 13 million were doing that when I gave my first State of the Union speech.
2. Under my leadership, we’ve finally got the national debt under control. You might remember I promised to that back in 2008. Well, this year we’re projecting the deficit will only be $980 billion! Imagine that – the first sub-trillion dollar deficit ever (on my watch).
3. Of course, the economy still needs work. It’s very, very unfair to expect that when so many of you now need food stamps, that the other half of the country doesn’t pay their fair share. Why, my good friends Warren Buffet and George Soros were complaining they don’t pay enough in taxes! So, I’m asking you to pay up. Pay up A LOT, in fact.
4. Were making big strides in those green jobs I promised. Why, we’ve given billions of dollars to companies like Solyndra in the past year, and look how it’s paying off.
5. On a related note, I also bailed out the auto companies. Okay, Chrysler got bought by Fiat and it’ll take decades before GM’s stock price gets back to what we paid for it. But, did you notice GM actually sold a couple of Volts last month?
6. There was a Democratic president who once said, “The buck stops here.” Well, I’m happy to report that I’m passing that buck right back to you. Remember, I pointed out last summer that you’re all a bunch of whining, lazy do-nothings. So, this mess is yours – just reelect me in November. I kind of dig the free house that comes with the job. Oh, and getting the chance to sing at the Apollo without the risk of getting booed off was pretty cool, too.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled lives.


SOTU? SNAFU


Tonight, President Obama will deliver his (hopefully final) State of the Union address. Since I imagine you have better things to do, I thought I would give you the Cliff’s Notes version now.

1. The economy, despite Tea Party intransigence, is gaining momentum. Only 21 million of you are looking for a real job now, when 13 million were doing that when I gave my first State of the Union speech.
2. Under my leadership, we’ve finally got the national debt under control. You might remember I promised to that back in 2008. Well, this year we’re projecting the deficit will only be $980 billion! Imagine that – the first sub-trillion dollar deficit ever (on my watch).
3. Of course, the economy still needs work. It’s very, very unfair to expect that when so many of you now need food stamps, that the other half of the country doesn’t pay their fair share. Why, my good friends Warren Buffet and George Soros were complaining they don’t pay enough in taxes! So, I’m asking you to pay up. Pay up A LOT, in fact.
4. Were making big strides in those green jobs I promised. Why, we’ve given billions of dollars to companies like Solyndra in the past year, and look how it’s paying off.
5. On a related note, I also bailed out the auto companies. Okay, Chrysler got bought by Fiat and it’ll take decades before GM’s stock price gets back to what we paid for it. But, did you notice GM actually sold a couple of Volts last month?
6. There was a Democratic president who once said, “The buck stops here.” Well, I’m happy to report that I’m passing that buck right back to you. Remember, I pointed out last summer that you’re all a bunch of whining, lazy do-nothings. So, this mess is yours – just reelect me in November. I kind of dig the free house that comes with the job. Oh, and getting the chance to sing at the Apollo without the risk of getting booed off was pretty cool, too.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled lives.