The U.S. stock market has nose-dived. Congress just approved the highest debt ceiling in American history, allowing the government to carry over $16 trillion in national debt, and prompting the credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s to downgrade America’s multitrillion-dollar debt for the first time in 70 years.
Unemployment is still over 9 percent. Private-sector businesses may have more than $1 trillion in cash, but they will be scared away from hiring or buying for as long as they fear new taxes, new regulations, new entitlement obligations, new plant shutdowns — or a new harangue.
America’s Gross Domestic Product is almost static. Every classical Keynesian remedy — massive government borrowing and spending (“stimulus”), near-zero interest rates, public works, expanded federal entitlements — has been tried and has failed; together they are turning a modest recovery into another recession. Neither the example of the socialist European Union nor that of big-spending blue-state America suggests that massive government spending and entitlements lead to collective prosperity.
In response to this depressing news, President Obama still offers the same predictably stale sermons: George W. Bush did it. The tea-party fiscal reformers are to blame. Government will fund “millions of green jobs.” Obama’s political opponents want to destroy Social Security and Medicare.
Imagine if President Obama simply stopped diverting blame and tried something different.
There are vast new finds of natural gas, oil, and tar sands offshore and in the American West, the Dakotas, Pennsylvania, New York, and Alaska. This natural wealth represents hundreds of billions of dollars of savings in imported-energy costs and millions of new American jobs. Instead of lecturing about tire pressure and car tune-ups and encouraging people to trade in clunkers, the president could rally the country to go all out right now to develop its burgeoning fossil-fuel resources to supply our needs while we wait for the development of future green energy.
Ever since he began campaigning for the presidency, Obama has hectored the private sector — talking nonstop of higher taxes, “spreading the wealth,” “fat cat” bankers, paying your “fair share,” “millionaires and billionaires,” “corporate jet owners,” and “unneeded” income.
Such share-the-wealth tirades were matched with redistributive vendettas. Vast new financial regulations and red tape followed. A new trillion-dollar health-care entitlement was imposed on employers. The National Labor Relations Board is attempting to shut down a new Boeing aircraft plant. The federal government took over private businesses — and on occasion reversed the order of payment to private creditors. New environmental regulations have curbed energy and agricultural production. Lifelong academics and government functionaries, not businesspeople, staff the Obama Cabinet and head the administration’s agencies.
But imagine if the president had instead promoted profit-making — by cutting red tape, praising entrepreneurs, promising no new taxes or burdens on businesses, and offering incentives to open new plants inside the United States. In other words, what if small businesses and large corporations believed Obama to be a friend and partner, a leader who wanted them to make big profits, hire millions of workers, and enrich the country in the process?
In the last three years, the president has increased the national debt by almost $5 trillion. But what if the president were to promise an end to the gargantuan spending and borrowing and were to accept the tax reforms and budget discipline offered by his own Simpson-Bowles Commission, but so far neglected by the administration?
The United States should be in a renaissance. In a food- and fuel-short world, we have vast agricultural and energy resources. While there are riots, strikes, and unrest from Europe to the Middle East, America remains quiet. Foreign depositors even now still believe that the United States is the least likely nation to either confiscate their capital or renege on the interest owed on it. China, Russia, and India have enormous environmental, demographic, and social challenges ahead, of the same sort the United States dealt with decades ago. Our military is far superior to the competitors.
After nearly three years of blaming, apologizing, and explaining what America cannot and should not do, it is past time for a confident President Obama to remind the country that we can do almost anything we wish.
Instead of lecturing some Americans about why they owe their existing wealth to others, why not inspire them to create even bigger new profits to enrich everyone? And in these tough times, let the first family give up vacationing at Vail, Costa del Sol, and Martha’s Vineyard; trim White House entertainment expenses; and set an example of thrift for the country to match new budget frugalities.
In short, President Obama could end the current psychological depression and acrimony by promising to lead from the fore rather than continually harping from far behind.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern. © 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.