In President Obama’s State of the Union message, he expressed his vision for the future: We need bigger government, and more of it should be paid for by rich people.
Specifically, the president suggested greater federal involvement in manufacturing, bank lending, education, clean energy, and medical research, among other areas. And the top 2 percent, he said, need to pay higher taxes to help fund it all.
In style, the president’s speech was smoother than his past State of the Union addresses — no snub of the Supreme Court this time, and no dwelling on expensive extras, such as high-speed rail. But his constant assumption was that more government control means better lives for almost all Americans.
Has this approach worked so far? If it had, President Obama would have asked the question Ronald Reagan asked in the 1980 campaign: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” In January 2009, unemployment was 7.6 percent; now it is 8.5 percent. The national debt then was $10.6 trillion; now it is $15.2 trillion — almost a 50 percent increase. The Community Reinvestment Act failed; the stimulus package failed; Solyndra, the solar-panel company, failed. And if more than 40 percent of Americans pay no income taxes, how can it be “fair” to ask others to pay more?
In conclusion, President Obama wants us to focus on his promises, not his results.
— Burton Folsom is professor of history at Hillsdale College and, with Anita Folsom, co-author of FDR Goes to War.
There is always something surreal about a Chicago politician talking about “fairness” and “playing by the rules.” There is something even more bizarre about a president talking about the need to expand energy production after his administration has generally undermined significant progress in facilitating energy development for three years in the middle of a recession. And who would describe Detroit as “on the way back”? A stroll down the ghost town otherwise known as downtown Detroit — which is teetering on the edge of being put into administration — would suggest the opposite. It’s not often that I agree with very much said by the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd, but this State of the Union speech illustrated that the lady was dead right in describing the Obama presidency as a bubble within a bubble.
Who, after all, would use the slogan of a bailed-out car company — “built to last” — as a cornerstone theme of an address ostensibly about rebuilding the American economy? Government bailouts are, incidentally, a classic example of breaking the rules: i.e., that an insolvent business should be wound down rather than propped up by the federal government (which itself is wallowing in debt). “It’s time,’ the president said, “to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts.” That sounds like the rhetoric of the Tea Party. But would anyone say that this has been the practice of the Obama administration? Solyndra, anyone?
A mixture of hot air, populism, contradictory promises, a disturbing stress upon yet more executive orders, an unseemly hectoring of the legislature by the executive branch — it must be election time.
— Samuel Gregg is research director at the Acton Institute. He is the author of several books including On Ordered Liberty, his prize-winning The Commercial Society, Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy, and his forthcoming Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and America’s Future.