Round about this time in the election cycle, a presidential challenger finds himself on the stump and posing a simple test to voters: “Ask yourself — are you better off now than you were four years ago?”
But, in fact, you don’t need to ask yourself, because the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances has done it for you. Between 2007 and 2010, Americans’ median net worth fell 38.8 percent — or from $126,400 per family to $77,300 per family. Oh, dear. As I mentioned a few months ago, when readers asked me to recommend countries they could flee to, most of the countries worth fleeing to Americans can no longer afford to live in.
Which means we’ll just have to fix things here. How likely is Barack Obama to do this? A few days ago he came to Cleveland, a city that is a byword for economic dynamism, fiscal prudence, and sound government. He gave a 54-minute address that tried the patience even of the most doting court eunuchs. “One of the worst speeches I’ve ever heard Barack Obama make,” pronounced MSNBC’s Jonathan Alter, as loyal Democrat attendees fled the arena to volunteer for the Obamacare death-panel pilot program. In fairness to the president, I wouldn’t say it was that much worse, or duller, or more listless and inert than previous Obama speeches. In fact, much of it was exactly the same guff he was peddling when Jonathan Alter’s pals were still hailing him as the world’s greatest orator. The problem is the ever widening gulf between the speech and the slough of despond all about.
Take, for example, the attempt at soaring rhetoric: “That’s how we built this country — together. We constructed railroads and highways, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. We did those things together,” he said, in a passage that was presumably meant to be inspirational but was delivered with the faintly petulant air of a great man resentful at having to point out the obvious, yet again. “Together, we touched the surface of the moon, unlocked the mystery of the atom, connected the world through our own science and imagination. We haven’t done these things as Democrats or Republicans. We’ve done them as Americans.”
Beyond the cheap dissembling, there was a bleak, tragic quality to this paragraph. Does anyone really believe a second-term Obama administration is going to build anything? Yes, you, madam, the gullible sap at the back in the faded hope’n’change T-shirt. You seriously think your guy is going to put up another Hoover Dam? Let me quote one Deanna Archuleta, Obama’s deputy assistant secretary of the interior, in a speech to Democrat environmentalists in Nevada:
“You will never see another federal dam.”
That seems pretty straightforward. America is out of the dam business. Just as the late Roman Empire no longer built aqueducts, so we no longer build dams. In fairness to the Romans, they left it to the barbarians to sweep in and destroy the existing aqueducts, whereas in America the government destroys the dams (some 200 this century) as an act of environmental virtue hailed by the deputy assistant secretary of the interior.
Obama can urge us all he wants to band together because when we dream big dreams there’s no limit to what Big Government can accomplish. But these days we can’t build a new Hoover Dam, only an attractive new corner office for the assistant deputy assistant deputy assistant secretary to the secretary of deputy assistants at the Department of Bureaucratic Sclerosis, and she’ll be happy to issue a compliance order that the Hoover Dam’s mandatory fish ladders are non-wheelchair-accessible, and so the whole joint needs to close. That we can do! If only we dare to dream Big Dreams!! Together!!!
As to “touching the surface of the moon,” I touch on this in my most recent book, whose title I will forbear to plug. Imagine if we hadn’t gone to the moon in the 1960s. Can you seriously picture Obama presiding over such an event today? Instead of the Apollo 11 guys taking up a portable cassette machine to play Sinatra and the Count Basie band’s recording of “Fly Me to the Moon,” the lads of Obamo 11 would take an iPod with Lady Gaga or Ke$ha or whatever. . . . Yet, even as you try to fill in the details, doesn’t the whole thing start to swim out of focus as something that increasingly belongs not only to another time but another place? In the Sixties, American ingenuity burst the bounds of the planet. Now our debt does, and “touching the surface of the moon” half-lingers in collective consciousness as a dimming memory of lost grandeur, in the way a date farmer in 19th-century Nasiriyah might be vaguely aware that the Great Ziggurat of Ur used to be around here.
But all he can see stretching to the horizon is sand.
So today our money-no-object government spends lots of money but to no great object. What are Big Government’s priorities now? Carpeting Catholic universities with IUDs. Regulating the maximum size of milk-coffee beverages. As Obama told us: “That’s how we built this country — together. We constructed railroads and highways. . . . Together, we touched the surface of the moon, unlocked the mystery of the atom.” And as we will one day tell our grandchildren: “Together, we touched the surface of the decaf caramel macchiato and deemed it to be more than 16 ounces. Together, we unlocked the mystery of 30-year-old college students’ womanhood. One small step to the Ikea futon for a lucky Georgetown Law freshwoman, one giant leap for womankind. Who will ever forget the day when the Union Pacific Board of Health Compliance and the Central Pacific Agency of Sustainable Growth Enhancement met at Promontory Community College, Utah, to hammer in the Golden Spike condom dispenser?”
Most of us don’t want a new Hoover Dam. We would like our homes to be less underwater, but there’s no danger of that anytime soon. Most of us don’t want America to go to the moon. We would like a few less craters on the economic wasteland down here. Soaring rhetoric at a time of earthbound problems — jobs, debt — risks making the president sound ridiculous. Granted, there’s a lot of it about this time of year — commencement speakers assuring kids who can’t manage middle-school math that you can be anything you want to be as long as you dream your dreams. But Obama offers an even more absurd evolution of this grim trope: “I can be anything I want to be as long as you chumps dream your dreams.”
Self-pity is never an attractive quality, and in an elected head of state even less so. Obama whines that his opponents say it’s all his fault. One can argue about whose fault it is, but not, as my colleagues at National Review pointed out, whose responsibility it is: It’s his. He’s the only president we have. And he made things worse. He increased the national debt by some 70 percent, and what do we have to show for it? No dams, no railroads, no moon shots. Just government, and bureaucracy, and regulation, unto national bankruptcy.
“Fly me to the moon / Let me play among the stars . . . ” Who needs another moon shot? Obama’s already up there, soaring ever more unmoored from reality. Pity us mere mortals back on Planet Earth, living in the land he made.