These days, the edicts are issued by commissars deep in the bowels of the hyper-regulatory state, and most of them are, like King Charles, a little too bald in their assumptions of government power to be bandied in polite society. So, in public, the modern ruler issues goals, orders dreams, commands unicorns. People seem to like this sort of thing. No accounting for taste, but there we are. “America moves forward only when we do so together,” declared the president. I dunno. Maybe it’s just me, but the whole joint seems to be seizing up these days: The more “activist” Big Government gets, the more inactive the nation at large.
But the president’s sonorous, gaseous banalities did serve notice that the Republicans don’t want to get too far behind on his “goals.” He’s right that Washington “moves forward” like a pantomime horse lurching awkwardly across the stage and with the Republicans always playing the rear end. A “bipartisan” agreement means that the Democrats get what they want now and Republicans at some distant far-off date. Try it: New taxes and government programs now, alleged deficit reduction of $2.5 trillion a decade hence. Illegal-immigrant amnesty now, alleged rigorous border enforcement the day after tomorrow. Washington has settled into a comfortable pattern: instant gratification for spending binges that do nothing for any of the problems they purport to be solving assuaged by meaningless commitments to start the twelve-step program next year, or next decade, or next century. No other big spender among the advanced democracies lies to itself about the gulf between its appetites and its self-discipline.
“Tonight, let’s declare,” declared the president, “that in the wealthiest nation on earth . . . ” Whoa, hold it right there. The “wealthiest nation on earth” is actually the Brokest Nation in History. But don’t worry: “Nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.”
“Should”? Consciously or not, the president is telling us his State of the Union show is a crock, and he knows it. Under Magical Fairyland budgeting, Obama-sized government “shouldn’t” increase our debt. Yet mysteriously it does. Every time. Because, in a political culture institutionally incapable of course correction, that’s just the way it is.