Saturday, January 26, 2013


We expect inauguration speeches to be filled with platitudes, exhortations to rise above our personal problems, revel in our national strength and character, remember the sacrifice of our forebears and gird our loins for the future struggle, convinced of our success. Obama's second inaugural speech was no exception. Unfortunately he used the occasion to signal his commitment to an agenda of the political Left which he wrapped in the criticism proof verbiage of our historical founding documents. Although he only won the election by a 51.4% majority, he claimed to speak for all American with his refrain of “We the people”. “Equality”, “freedom”, “collective action”; who could disparage such goals? But “collective action” in Obama's mind is just a transparent emphasis on government spending. And in setting out an agenda for the next four years, no matter how general, what he left out is as important as what he included.

On January 20, 2013 the nation faced the slow but seemingly permanent slide into financial crisis brought about by government debt of $16.432 trillion, a number so large it is virtually impossible to conceptualize. With annual deficits raising the level of debt by an additional $1 trillion each fiscal year, Barack Obama's message to the people offered this plan for dealing with the economic crisis:

We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.”

That's it. That's his plan; no mention of the national debt which consumed close to $360 billion of our national wealth in interest payments in 2012 even with interest rates at historic lows. Revenues do not exist sufficient to pay this interest so it is borrowed and becomes part of the total debt each month. There was no goal of eliminating annual deficits, just “reduce” their size as they were just some minor nuisance.

Obama is averse to making the “hard choices” which he briefly mentioned and he is ideologically committed to remaking society in the model of a European advanced welfare state. Economic “equality” is his mantra but is an impossible goal although extreme concentrations of national wealth in the hands of a few is clearly a danger to the economic health of the nation. But progress towards a wider distribution of wealth cannot be achieved through government “redistribution” plans. Wealth can be reduced through taxation on those at the top up to a point before it has a negative impact on investment but it disappears into the black hole of government programs i.e. spending, which don't increase the personal wealth of others. Progress towards financial equality must come from economic growth on a national level which provides jobs and social mobility.

Obama's outline of a leftist path for the nation (euphemistically labeled “progressive” now that “liberal” is out of favor) contains dire consequences in both the domestic and international contexts. The political response needed by conservatives will be very difficult. While Republicans still control the House of Representatives, they have a huge problem to overcome in the negative perception of many voters which could produce additional negative results in the 2014 congressional elections. Moderation in the promotion of common sense conservative principles is made difficult when extremists within the Republican party are successfully labeled by the Democrats as the face of the party. Stridency, out dated intolerance and unworkable positions on social issues i.e. abortion, immigration, and gay marriage were used so successfully against the party that they blocked out the drastic economic conditions that usually dictate national elections outcomes. Republicans not only lost the presidential race, they also lost seats in the House and Senate. Remaining Republicans in the House now are the only fire wall between Obama's planned government expansion and a genuine economic recovery. As Louisiana's Republican governor, Bobby Jindal has recently said in a speech before the Republican National Committee;

“We’ve got a lot of work between now and the next midterm elections. … We’ve got to get the Republican Party back on track.” “We must stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican party that talks like adults. It’s time for us to articulate our plans and visions for America in real terms. We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. We’ve had enough of that.”

House Republicans showed some hope in this respect by recently passing a three month extension of the debt limit. As onerous as the growing federal debt is, they recognized this year, unlike last year, that the limit had to be raised to accommodate obligations which had already been made, including interest on existing debt. Refusing to pay those existing obligations would cause great damage to the credibility of the dollar and be politically poisonous. Obama wasted no time in exploiting the possibility by raising the threat that payments to members of the military and social security recipients would be in danger.

Republicans need to make the case for a responsible future debt limit and the common sense spending reductions that would make that possible. The tendency to avoid the “tough decisions” on spending cuts by hiding behind “across the board” cuts of the type that created the “fiscal cliff” need to be avoided. All government spending programs are not equal in importance. Mitt Romney tried, however clumsily, to make that point by bringing up federal subsidies to “Big Bird” i.e. National Public Television. Big Bird is nice but hardly critical. There are lots of Big Birds in the federal budget and each has a constituency backed by sympathetic members of Congress, but now is the time to set priorities and Republicans need to fill the leadership void created by Obama and the Democrats in the Senate, but the decisions will have to be explained to voters in terms of non-ideological common sense.

Obama's new “progressive” path also wanders into America's role as the stabilizing force in international relations. Now free from the need to be reelected he has the “flexibility” he described to former Russian President Medvedev. Where he will lead the country with this new freedom is an important question. His inauguration speech offered little assurance in this regard:

America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.”

There are plenty of crises to be managed and Obama's preference for “institutions” in place of American leadership is reflective of his community organizer background. The Middle East continues to slide into chaos and now the Islamic militant contagion has spread even further into Sub-Saharan Africa. Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Egypt, are all struggling with sectarian conflict with a heavy dose of Islamic extremism and organized terrorist involvement. Syria is an ongoing disaster with enormous implications for future regional stability. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict continues to fester.

The Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons continues unabated. American leadership in this confrontation has been handed off to the European Union and the United Nations and as the endless “dialogue” continues Iran's goal of becoming a nuclear power is close to becoming a “fait accompli”.

While doctrinaire liberals celebrate Obama's new path of governance Republicans must resist any attempt at wholesale reductions of U.S. military strength while at the same time cooperating in military restructuring to reduce budgets.

Obama's platitudes and laundry list of “We must . . .” items are no substitute for leadership in making the difficult choices to bring about fiscal recovery. His State of the Union address before Congress on February 12, 2013 will undoubtedly offer more of the same. He will proclaim the success of his economic stimulus, which contributed to the enormous growth of debt while having only a moderate impact on job growth; his government buy out of General Motors which stuck American taxpayers with billions of dollars of GM stock worth only a fraction of what was paid for it; and his health care plan which is already forcing insurance premiums higher. He will propose an immigration reform plan in general terms but not explain how to stop the continuing influx of illegals which the plan will encourage. And he will tell America that the economy is recovering along with the usual “our best days are ahead” platitudes. He will ignore the continuing high unemployment numbers, the debt and deficit crisis except to make the “rich” pay even higher taxes.

Fifty-two years ago on January 20, 1961 newly elected President John F. Kennedy in his inauguration speech uttered these famous words:

. . . ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. “

From that same podium Obama has reversed Kennedy's vision for America's future.

His ideologically based plan for an ever growing welfare state financed by ever growing debt and its concomitant intervention in the free markets and individual lives of American citizens as part of his “collective” strategy will offer a challenge to moderate and conservative participants in government if a dangerous and permanent restructuring of American society is to be avoided.

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