First Principles

In search of the Unified Theory of Conservatism

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Non-Live Blog of the State of the Union

January 26th, 2011 · No Comments

I couldn’t live blog tonight, as I had a class to teach.  But I listened to most of it on the radio, and watched the rest on DVR when I got home.

I wish the entire nation could have seen Governor Sandoval’s speech last night, in order to contrast it with this one.  Sandoval gave a substantive speech with an amazing amount of specifics.  It sounded less like a politician’s pontifications than a briefing by a financial agent of the state of OUR finances.  You could disagree with his proposed plan, but you certainly couldn’t accuse him of not having one.  He gave Nevadans the courtesy of treating them like grownups who deserved to know the truth about the state of our State, and what our leadership planned to do about it.  He gave actual numbers – what we spent last year, how much we have to spend this year, and what we can and/or should spend that limited budget on.

Contrast that with tonight’s SOTU.  There were no numbers.  There were no specifics.  The oratory was inspiring – if you’re in second grade and want a grownup to ask you what you want to be when you grow up.  For those of us actually old enough to vote, it was borderline insulting.  No one listening to this speech alone would have a true understanding of the actual state of our Union.  You wouldn’t know we’re facing Depression-level unemployment, record annual deficits (signed off on by this President), and catastrophic foreign debts.  The President presented dreams, not plans or goals. We as Americans deserve better.

Some thoughts on specifics:

Giffords and Civility: Tuscan could not, of course, have gone unmentioned.  I thought the President’s memorial speech after that event was one of his very best, and I don’t blame him for returning to it.  And I’m glad that he once again resisted the temptation to turn a call for civility into a cudgel to stifle legitimate dissent.

But I was disappointed right at the start – for some reason it fell flat to me.  It felt like a reach.  I think he would have been better off updating the nation on her progress, noting the miracle it is, and leaving it there.

Instead, he used it as a segue to announce a misread of the November election results.  Voters didn’t throw Democrats out on their collective behinds from coast to coast because they wanted more “shared responsibility” amongst the parties.  They did it because they were frankly pissed off at the Obama/Pelosi/Reid agenda, and wanted it stopped.  (They didn’t vote FOR Republicans, either, to be sure.)  It was a repudiation not of tone, but of substance.

I can’t help but note that when President Obama’s party had a wave election, his reaction to Republicans offering constructive criticism was a very public, very haughty, and very dismissive “We won.”  It’s only now that he got his “schellacking” that he’s insisting we should “transcend” partisanship.  His track record on partisanship gives him zero credibility in this appeal.

And frankly, we don’t share a “common creed” as Americans.  We are sharply divided over what the proper role of government is, and the primacy (or not) of individual liberty as a God-given gift.  Progressive and conservative philosophies are not mutually compatible or reconcilable, not at the edges, but at their very core.  Loving America and hoping for the best for our children is great, and I agree we all have that in common as Americans, but these things do not make a creed.  I would rather this simply be stated in the open.  I’m all for civility and finding common ground, but not at the expense of honesty.

The Economy: The President insisted that we’re “poised for progress,” and talked about corporate profits and a rising stock market.  Maybe.  I’m glad these things are changing.  But I have no faith whatsoever in their stability.  I’d rather live in a two story house with a stable foundation than a four story mansion built on quicksand.  Without that solid foundation, there can be no solid economic growth.

He was unrealisticly sunny – the Recession, if we define is as negative economic times, is most assuredly not over, and I have no faith that the worst is not yet ahead.  We still have too many debts and too much government getting in the way of private innovation and growth.

I’m amused that he took credit for the tax cut compromise package he so openly despised and claimed would be bad for the economy.  To the extent we are regaining our economic footing, he credits and touts a policy he made clear he would not have supported had his hand not been forced, and then later criticizes in the same speech!  How does that inspire confidence in his competence?

His “history” lesson of the good union factory job was frighteningly sophomoric.  And left unsaid was that such a model was ultimately unsustainable – just ask all those good factory workers in Detroit.  I’m glad he acknowledged we can’t return to those days (to the extent they ever actually existed), but then one wonders why his political philosophy is still mired in “progressive” economic policies which were discredited in practice in this country 70 years ago.

He spent far too much time “rah-rahing” – hey, Mr. President, I already know the United States of America is the best country in the history of the planet.  I don’t need you to tell me that.  I don’t have a crisis of confidence in me or in my fellow Americans, I’ve lost faith in you.  I want a realistic solutions, up to and including getting the hell out of my way, not a cheap and patronizing pap.

And I was annoyed about the references to great American innovators of the past.  As if Edison could have electrified America had he faced the red tape we deal with today.  It’s clear that President Obama doesn’t have the first clue about innovation, or the critical role of liberty in promoting it.  Government’s role is an umbrella, protecting me from crime and invasion so I can innovate and deal with my fellow citizen in peace.  We don’t need a government chaperon.

Sputnik: The United States didn’t beat the Soviets to the moon because we “dream big.”  It wasn’t because we asked our children what they wanted to be when they grow up more often than the Russians.  It’s because we had a serious understanding of a foreign threat, didn’t spend any time wondering if we could just learn to love and get along with Communists, and dedicated a military style operation to defeating a hostile power’s own military (and public relations, which matters) ambitions.  We weren’t yet mired down by decades of debt from the “Great Society.”  And with freedom on our side, we had a more stable foundation for personal, individual motivation and innovation than the slaves working for the Communist state.

Green Energy: When green energy technology starts actually saving us money and creating sustainable jobs, it won’t need government hand-holding to take off.  I can’t wait to line my roof with solar panels as soon as it’s cost effective. And unless Christopher Lloyd lied to me, we’re only 5 years away from a “Mr. Fusion” powered car!  I’ll be happy to lay my money down for that, too, when it’s time to turn in the Accord.

It is the drive for profit and market share, not mere environmental altruism, which will bring cleaner energy to Americans and the world.  We will NEVER see these innovations so long as we have a government which disincentivizes profit, wealth, and individual success.

Here’s something else that annoyed me:  “With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.”

Where does he think the electricity which charges those cars come from?  You’d better believe electric cars still burn plenty of fossil fuels.  And biofuels burn food, raising food prices for everyone.  If corn ethanol was a good idea, we wouldn’t still need to be subsidizing it after all these years.  It’s not just pablum, it’s factually ignorant pablum.

Education: Last night in Nevada’s SOTS, Governor Sandoval noted a lot of the same problems in education that Obama spoke about tonight.  And there ends the similarities. Sandoval presented actual (if controversial) solutions, including ending tenure, rethinking class-size mandates, etc.  President Obama just took a shot at President Bush (although I agree with that shot), and touted his own spending plan (which I don’t agree with) without explaining HOW the money is being spent.

President Obama said this, with which I entirely agree:  “You see, we know what’s possible for our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals; school boards and communities.”  The problem is that Obama doesn’t agree with it.  If he did, he’d call for a defunding of the federal Department of Education altogether.

What does the federal government have to do with firing bad teachers?  And since when do we NOT respect our teachers, as Obama implied?  If anything, we respect them as a class a little too blindly (and ignore them as individuals with all levels of talent and lack thereof), which is why politicians across the spectrum are now having to call at the very highest levels to undertake the Herculean task of rooting out entrenched but ineffective teachers protected by economically tone-deaf unions.

But it was his discussion of post-secondary education which bothered me the most.

To compete, higher education must be within reach of every American. That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students. And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit – worth $10,000 for four years of college.

Imagine a nation where every single citizen has a college degree.  Imagine – no garbage men, no carpenters, no plumbers, no factory workers, no construction workers, no enlisted military personnel, no painters, no farm workers, no truck drivers, no…

Wait a minute.  That world totally sucks.

Or you still have those things, but instead they do them while trying to pay off tens of thousands of dollars in useless debt, and having wasted 4 or 5 potentially economically productive years.  We’ll have a nation of well educated convenience store clerks in deep, deep debt.  How does that help our productivity or our competitiveness as a nation?

He mentioned a 55 year old woman getting a degree, which I have no problem with. I think it’s great, in fact.  Knowledge for its own sake should be a constant, lifelong quest.  But should other people have to pay for a degree under those circumstances?  If we truly are going to look at education as an economic investment, as we should, we need to start tying education subsidies with actual economic productivity.  We should treat tuition subsidies and loans for engineers and doctors differently from how we treat them for lawyers or over-specialized social science majors.

And to crow about the government takeover of an entire industry – federalizing all student loans – is just foolish.  All that did was destroy private sector jobs in favor of an unaccountable government bureaucracy, all the while GROWING government spending and adding to our debt.

Still no mention of the debt?  Hmmm…

Immigration: I have tremendous sympathy for a kid who was brought to the US illegally as a small child, grew up here speaking only English, and now faces deportation to a “home” country where he knows neither the culture nor the language.  And while I think we should take a hard line on illegal immigration, we should be flexible enough to recognize this unique situation and offer a path to citizenship.  But that path should be narrow – and earned.

One of the worst parts of the DREAM Act, which Obama conspicuously chose NOT to refer to by name, was its granting of citizenship for “demonstrating a commitment to education” – in other words, doing nothing more than marking time in a community college for two years.  If we need more engineers and doctors, and we do, and illegal immigrants who came here as children are willing to fill those roles, and many are, then predicate citizenship on completion of these degree programs, not mere participation.

And frankly, the President has no credibility on being willing to control illegal immigration.  If he was serious about this, he would have sued San Francisco and other sanctuary cities instead of Arizona.

Transportation Infrastructure:

When the single most critical threat to the nation today is ever-increasing and crushing debt, maybe it’s not the time to buy a new train set.  Rail makes sense in densely populated nations with cities sitting nearly on top of each other.  It makes far less sense here.  Again, if passenger rail in the US was an economic booster, AmTrack wouldn’t be losing tax money on nearly every single run after almost 40 years to “work out the bugs.”

(Incidentally, this is one of my few criticisms of Governor Sandoval’s speech last night.  Why do we need a new rail line between Vegas and LA when you can hop a plane for less than $100 with less than an hour in the air and no stop in a few dozen small towns along the way?)

The same goes for the internet.  The worst thing the government can do to improve my internet connectivity is to get involved in my internet connectivity, which Democrats on the FCC are trying to unconstitutionally do.

I know the President has to kiss up to China since we owe them a lot of money and everything, but I’m a little tired of hearing about how we need to be more like a Communist dictatorship.  Especially when that dictatorship’s infrastructure isn’t exactly anything to be proud of

Obama then spoke about getting rid of cumbersome regulations to aid the growth of this infrastructure.  Great.  But where has he been for the last two years?

Oh, yeah.  Increasing regulatory intrusion, complexity, and tax loopholes.  Fool me once…

Health Care: Obamacare is not simply a new bureaucracy.  It is a fundamental reorganization and reimagining of the relationship between the US government and the US citizen.

Republicans nation-wide, beginning with Scott Brown in Massachusetts, ran – and won – on the express platform of stopping and later repealing the law.  It is not a mere “concern” of a few members in the chamber.  It was the driving issue of a huge number of Americans who made their voices heard in November.  House Republicans were right to vote to repeal it.

The law cannot be “tweaked” and “improved” consistent with the core principles of the newly elected House (or, for that matter, of the American people).  And it is profoundly not “yesterday’s debate” – it was a central issue in this most recent election, and House Republicans are right to act on their promises.  For Obama to suggest otherwise is ignorant at best, and more realistically just dishonest and disrespectful to the public.

And to continue the lie that repealing Obamacare would add to the debt is simply absurd.  The only way to make that claim with a straight face is to acknowledge that those calculations count on enormous tax increases, and to assume those revenue projections are accurate – hardly a projection I’d bet any of my own money on.  It’s certainly not that the law actually saves any money on its own.

President Obama needs to have this driven through his skull – you don’t reduce debt by spending more. And Obamacare unquestionably spends more.  You want to raise taxes, too?  Fine – but be honest about it.

The National Debt – Finally: 2/3rds of the way through this speech, and finally we get to the ACTUAL “state of the union.”  Here it is – we’re broke.

Here’s President Obama’s solution – make the same promise to freeze spending he made and broke last year.  And the year before that.

First, after preening for bipartisanship, he took a gratuitous and completely dishonest swipe at the Bush administration, claiming our debt problems only go back to, oh, about the time that nasty Mr. Bush took office.  As if it’s not been a bi-partisan sin for many decades.  And, of course, as if President Obama hadn’t taken GWB’s misdemeanors and made them felonies.  It’s time for the chart again!

It’s like hiring a cat to babysit your canary.

It’s incredibly disturbing that two years into his presidency, Obama is still talking about “seeking” solutions and “listening” to ideas.  He and his party’s-led Congress added $4 million million to the national debt in just two years, borrowing more money in 2 years than America’s first 200.  If we went back to the day the first primate on Earth walked on two legs, and put $1 million away every single day of humanity’s ascent from ape to spacefaring man, we would only have enough to pay down Obama’s debt alone, and would still be over $10,000,000,000,000 (trillion) in debt.

And that, of course, doesn’t account for unfunded future liabilities.  We take that into account, and we owe more than all the money in the world. That’s the state of the union.

So forgive me if I’m unimpressed with a two year old broken promise to freeze spending.  Or to limit pay raises for federal employees.

Forgive me if I don’t take the promise to veto any bill with earmarks in it seriously, even though I would like to see him follow through with it.  And you’ll pardon me if I’m unimpressed with his stewardship – past, present, or future – of ANY American’s money, be they rich or poor.  Giving President Obama more of “the wealthiest 2%’s” money won’t decrease the debt.  It will just feed a dangerous addiction to spending other people’s wealth in foolish ways.

Foreign Policy/Military: I’m glad Americans are coming home from Iraq after our success there.  I’m glad the President acknowledged that success for what it was.  I just wish he’d put his bi-partisan money where his mouth is, and praised the man responsible – President George W. Bush.  I further wish he’d admit that had then-Senator Obama had his way, those same troops’ exit from Iraq would have looked more like Saigon.

I’m glad Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is gone, and I’m even gladder that he called directly for universities to end their churlish and illegal ROTC bans.  But here, too, in what might be my favorite part of his speech, he advertises his inadequacies as a leader.

He doesn’t need to simply ask universities to welcome ROTC back to their campuses.  He has the statutory power RIGHT NOW to compel them to do it.  Get ROTC back on campus by the start of the fall term, 2011, or federal funds cease.  It’s just that simple.


The rest was more empty pep-rally nonsense.  If President Obama actually believed America was a place where a kid from anywhere can do anything, he wouldn’t be trying to fundamentally change it.  He wouldn’t declare that only through government beneficence via bureaucratic intrusion into the most intimate details of your personal (government controlled healthcare) can people succeed in this country.  If he understood what the American dream truly was, he wouldn’t be so hostile to individual liberty.  And if he truly believed in the American people, he would have had the courage to be honest with us about the true state of our national finances.

“We do big things.”  “Dare to dream.”  “Win the future.”  “Hope.”  “Change.”

These are not serious statements of who we are, nor are they serious solutions to the problems we face.  They are patronizing, useless gobbedlygook, which any member of my high school debate team would have been embarrassed to use as rhetorical devices.

I can only “hope” that our President does a more adequate job in the next two years than he has in the past two.  If this speech is any predictor of how likely that hope is to come to pass, well, color me un-optimistic.

Tags: Capitalism · China · Congress · Economy · Education · Environment · Foreign Policy · George Bush · Health Care · Iraq · Liberals · Nanny State · Nevada Politics · Obama · Partisanship · Patriotism · Principles · Republicans · Taxes