I’m a bit behind on this, but I didn’t read the transcript of President Obama’s Tuesday speech to Congress until last night. The people who see little starbursts every time the President speaks scare me. Because they’ll listen to that speech and see change. They argue that we finally have an adult in the White House. Probably, but he’s still a politician. That speech was not change. It wasn’t even well written. It was political theater, a giant lie masquerading as the maturity of a statesman. It was drivel.
I pulled many bits out of the speech to highlight, but that review would be too long and too detailed. The general theme is the same from every point, anyway. I narrowed my focus to three passages that I think capture the essence of the charade. First:
In other words, we have lived through an era where too often short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity, where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election.
As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by Presidents Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets, not because I believe in bigger government — I don’t — not because I’m not mindful of the massive debt we’ve inherited — I am.
What was the deficit spending bill, if not the pursuit of short-term gains? President Obama made a case that he’s investing in the future, but the fear he used to quickly sell it suggests otherwise. Only productive activity puts new money in people’s pockets. The money the government seeks to put into people’s pockets today is money extracted from future productivity. It is borrowed, as our ballooned deficit proves. That is a short-term gain prized over long-term prosperity.
Packed in there is also the lie that President Obama does not believe in bigger government. If he believed that, his speech would’ve been very different. He wouldn’t have asked Congress to join him “in doing whatever proves necessary”. He wouldn’t have promised new ways that government would “rebuild” America. “Remake” would’ve been the accurate word choice. His call is for more government. For example, how else can he square this paragraph with his small government claim?
We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.
President Obama argues that “the largest effort in history” is how to measure what a country is doing. Forget benchmarks that would clearly show the Chinese much further behind us in modern energy technology. Forget future results from the efforts. It’s the largest effort in history. They must be doing it correctly. He’s shifted the debate to big actions that he will tell us only the government can undertake.
The real clue is the last line. If we make plug-in hybrids, that’s not enough because Koreans are making the batteries. A global economy involves exports and imports. President Obama is making a moral argument that
we We should make batteries without making the argument that they They make the batteries less productively than We would make them. Nor does He he make the case that overall production is worse off. If we have a comparative advantage in making batteries, that’s interesting but incomplete. What else would we make if the Koreans freed us from making batteries? Or are the Koreans just supposed to wait for us to make everything and then they can buy our cars with… If we take over the world’s production, what exactly would they pay us with?
President Obama is a politician engaging in populist rhetoric. He shows this again when he gets to taxes.
We will root out — we will root out the waste and fraud and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier. We will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.
In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.
There’s more that follows, and much of it reads as though he’s tacking fantastical lie after fantastical lie to his speech as he thinks of them. But these two paragraphs provide enough insight into his political goal.
First, it’s nonsense to think of jobs as “our jobs”. There’s more to economic success than Us Doing Something. Something has to be more than anything. What are we good at? What are others good at? These are economic questions to be sorted, not political questions to be dictated.
Second, President Obama is surely aware of how the income tax burden is overwhelmingly shouldered by the highest income earners in America. (There is a difference between wealth and income that President Obama ignores.) We have lost our sense of fairness and balance, but taxing the more productive members of society more will further distort the unfair imbalance, not rectify the problem. President Obama is a politician engaging in populist rhetoric.
KipEsquire provides a concise summary of why progressive taxation is inherently unfair, in the context of President Obama’s newly-proposed budget. Matt Welch explains how President Obama contradicted his statemen’s pose with his own words. Cato @ Liberty’s Daniel Ikenson explores a different explanation (e.g. the high tax burden faced by American corporations) for why American companies outsource “our” jobs.