President Obama proved once again what we all knew about him: that he can give one hell of a speech. And, he hit it out of the park on this one. Even from my center-right position on the political map, there was much to like in here. From finally taking the hint from former President Clinton and talking America's economy up, saying that we will come through our current crisis, to preaching responsibility of the individual and families. While I have not agreed with the president on much since he took office a little over a month ago, I'd be lying if I didn't say that the performance was smart and charming, and will definitely improve public opinion for Obama, as well as concern over his plans.
As good as this was for Obama and Democrats, is as bad as this ultimately will be for America. The underlying principles of the administration have not changed. The massive spending and handouts, the dependency-engendering provisions, are now the law of the land, and there is much more spending and hand outs to come. Prior to this speech, Americans were starting to wake up and get enraged at the massive overreach of the Democratic party. Consensus was forming that Americans, while in general viewing President Obama favorably, did not view greater government interference in their lives under the guise of help, nearly as favorably. The speech effectively will head this growing movement off at the pass. That President Obama gave a great speech shouldn't be a surprise, but I suspect that the media will treat it as such, and the average man on the street won't know enough about the issues to form anything other than a positive opinion of the man, and by extension, his policies.
And while the speech seemed positive, there were many things within it that were troublesome.
For the first time I can remember, Obama talked positively and at length about small business. He accurately described our nation's entrepreneurs and workers as the solution to the current crisis. And he's right. But then he named better health care and education as the way to fix the ills of small business. Obama's contention that the cost of health care "is one of the major reasons why small businesses close their doors and corporations ship jobs overseas" is blatantly untrue. Obama's contention that health care "is one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our budget" is true, but the solution he's put forth is for government to double down and "invest" even more in government-run health care which will only cause the budget to increase at an even faster pace.
Government providing these services will have to be paid for with higher taxes, especially on those with higher incomes, such as the owners of small businesses. This, along with high labor costs, will reduce jobs in the American market. And while education and health care may help people who are not able to access those services for whatever reason, these programs won't do much for small business job creation, especially in the short term.
While on the topic of small business, Obama said:
First, we are creating a new lending fund that represents the largest effort ever to help provide auto loans, college loans, and small-business loans to the consumers and entrepreneurs who keep this economy running.
Sounds good at first, but consider that government investment in Fannie and Freddy in support of loans that shouldn't have been made in the private sector has a lot to do with our current situation. So why would we create a government lending fund that offers even more loans, backed by tax payer dollars, for higher risk small businesses? Taking risks and dealing with the outcome on an individual basis is a major facet of what makes our economy great. Conversely, forcing everyone to share in those risks will eventually lead to a more risk averse culture, and thus a lesser economy and country in the long run. Can't we just focus on fixing the lending problem in the private sector?
In the context of America's economic recovery, Obama brought up the topic of energy. I supported McCain's "All of the above" approach, and agree with investment in alternative energies. That said, a very smart friend of mine suggested that if there really were a viable alternative energy option, private capital would already be fully invested, in order to reap the massive rewards that would come along with such an advancement. Considering the massive amount of private money that has gone into things like consumer space travel, it's clear my friend is both smart, and right. It's the American way.
Perhaps President Obama is correct that it will take a massive government effort on the same level as our voyage to the moon to achieve truly renewable and profitable energy. And if his gamble were to pay off, then the world might experience a period of near utopia. However, "Gamble" is the key word in that sentence. Considering our current economic climate, does it make sense to gamble so much money on a technology that does not exist?
Predictably, Obama did not mention drilling for sources of oil within our borders or offshore. Obama did say:
So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. That's what we need.
Is it really what we need? The reality is, "Cap and Trade" represents a tax on any business that is emitting CO2. While cap and trade may make environmentalists happy, it restricts business and will actually wind up reducing jobs. The money generated by cap and trade schemes goes somewhere, usually to government, to spend on alternative energy programs or whatever else government deems worthy. In the short term, this plan will reduce jobs, and negatively impact the private sector. And as noted previously, since major investment in renewable energy is a gamble, should the money spent not pan out, then sacrifice will have been made for no gain.
Obama defended his stimulus plan by listing specific numbers of teachers or police who would have been laid off otherwise. The assertion here is that in each of these instances, nothing else could have been cut in these local governments to save the jobs of the police and teachers. That's an assertion that stretches the limits of believability. If the stimulus package consisted primarily of measures to save the jobs of police and teachers, then perhaps more Republicans would have supported it. Instead, considering that there are approximately 7 million Americans working as police or teachers in America (approximately 800,000 cops, 6.2 million teachers), we have a stimulus package so large that we could give each and every teacher and police officer $124,000.
Obama trotted out the old wives' tale of electronic medical records as the way to "reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives." I don't know what doctors you've been to recently, but I have not seen a medical office or hospital not run by computers for at least a couple of decades now. Perhaps there are still practitioners out there "filling out things in triplicate" but if so, that's their bad. The electronic medical records issue is really about reducing retests and second opinions, and giving government even more oversight into the treatment we are all getting. This may or may not reduce errors or save lives. Given how often we hear of things like our credit card numbers being stolen en masse, something tells me such a system would not ensure privacy. Investing in a massive government technology to centralize medical data won't be cheap either, and thus will not bring down costs.
On education, Obama made the following contentions:
…we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education, from the day they are born to the day they begin a career. That is a promise we have to make to the children of America.
Granted, education is important. But is access really the issue? Or is the real problem the quality of our teaching process, and the fact that teachers stay in their positions regardless of the job they do? Obama touched upon this point, but not satisfactorily. Recent history teaches us that throwing more money at our public schools is not the solution, yet that is exactly what Obama is proposing:
Already, we've made a historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan. We've dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life.
Formative learning does happen in a child's early years, but should that formative learning happen in school? The Wall Street Journal wrote an article about how Finnish teens have been found to be the smartest in the world, and these kids don't start school till they are age seven, and get little homework in high school. There is no evidence whatsoever that sending toddlers or infants to public school improves anything. The constant drumbeat by the teachers union that children be enrolled sooner and attend longer classes has to do with creating more teacher jobs and greater government control of the programming of our young. A scary thought, when you consider the effect education has had on our populace in the last 20 or so years. Knowledge of capitalism and freedom and the great history of America has dipped to all-time lows. Most children coming out of high school know much more about Facebook than our Constitution. Even more funding for even more of the same isn't the solution.
President Obama made the following comment which was curious to say the least:
Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come, and we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.
First, comprehensive Medicare reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare, but I'm not sure reforming the entire health system would strengthen anything but our deficit. And on the point of universal savings accounts, don't we already have 401ks? Didn't Bush suggest such an idea and wasn't he roundly rejected by all Democrats? I guess the Dems needed to hear this from someone who doesn't have a Texas accent.
Obama elicited a few jeers during the speech. He once again suggested that he inherited the current deficit, when in fact he ran for several years, and at the cost of nearly a billion dollars, for the honor to do the job. He once again suggested that the stimulus plan was free of earmarks — a statement that is true only in a courtroom.
Also interesting was the "distinguished Americans" part of the address, where the president mentions the accomplishments of select people in the audience. The great American Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger was in attendance, but was not mentioned by the President for taking responsibility for the 150-plus people on his plane; ensuring that they got home to their loved ones safely. Instead, President Obama focused on a man who gave his hard-earned $60 million dollar bonus to his friends and co-workers, and a young lady who wrote the government a letter asking for more funds for her school. The message was clear: our new president celebrates those who give hand outs, or ask for hand outs. Not my definition of distinguished. Or of the American way.
President Obama is a smart politician and he proved that once again last night. What he failed to prove however, is that his policies are equally as smart.