Friday, January 29, 2010
SOTU: The night of magical thinking
President Barack Obama's first State of the Union address answered the big question pundits were asking resoundingly. In the face of setbacks and growing opposition, in the face of the cap-and-trade energy bill being considered effectively dead, in the face of the loss of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, in the face of increasing opposition to the health-insurance reform proposal that has yet to take final shape, would the president modulate his agenda to take account of a political climate that has changed radically since he took office a year ago, or would he double-down on the program of increasing the size, scope and responsibility of government?
He chose to double-down, to insist that the growing opposition to his programs is due not to serious concerns about the policies embodied in them, but in his failure to communicate effectively their constructiveness and loveliness. One might view this as admirable determination to stick by a program, or one might view it as stubbornness, defiance, even, dare we say it, a touch of arrogance.
Listening to this overlong speech Wednesday night that was remarkably flat in tone and pedestrian in delivery, one sensed a certain overarching sense of unreality. Almost all observers have considered cap-and-trade effectively dead, especially in the light of revelations about the likelihood that some of the data supporting the theory of climate change has been deliberately skewed, yet President Obama proclaimed utter fealty to it.
The health-insurance reforms his party has proposed were in trouble even before a Republican was elected to the Senate from Massachusetts, yet the president spent a good deal of time trying to make the case that, if we really understood how beneficial it would be, our doubts would melt away like yesterday's clouds.
An emphasis on trying to rejuvenate a flat economy and create more jobs was understandable, given polling data that shows these priorities are uppermost in the minds of most Americans. Yet the president, aside from one rhetorical flourish, showed little or no understanding of the notion that the only jobs that are sustainable over the long haul are those created in the private sector as a result of businesses that flourish and make profits.
All of the jobs he claimed were saved by last year's stimulus bill were public-sector jobs – police, firefighters, teachers, construction workers on government-financed infrastructure projects. But all those jobs depend on the government extracting money and resources from the private sector. If the private sector languishes or is flat, none of them can be sustained over the long haul. Is there any evidence that President Obama understands this?
His proposal on students repaying loans for college was especially telling. He proposed that loans be forgiven after 20 years for people in the private sector but only 10 years for those students who go to work for some government agency. An Obama economy looks like one in which government and those who work for it receive special treatment and favors, whereas those who create the wealth that government must seize to increase the public sector are to be looked upon with suspicion and punished with more taxes and increased regulation.
Such a vision may be inspiring to some, but it is profoundly unsustainable.
President Obama's Lexicon of Rhetorical Devices
President Obama's friends call him the smartest man ever to occupy the White House (a dubious claim in light of the fact that John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson all had better intellectual credentials or were far superior writers, or both). According to his supporters, his command of the English language is supposedly unparalleled (when using a teleprompter, presumably).
There's only one problem: Obama is addicted to utilizing language that he has carefully tailored or perverted to obfuscate the truth. In other words, he uses double talk on a routine basis. In order to understand what Obama truly tells us when he speaks to us, it is necessary to grab our Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring and decipher precisely what he means when he uses his pet phrases. This, then, is a list of his favorite linguistic flourishes -- and just what he means when he uses them:
"Hope and change": Socialism at home, surrender abroad. Obama uses this talismanic formula when he wants to activate his base, which responds to it like a jukebox when you drop in a nickel.
"False choice": A very real choice Obama wants to pretend doesn't exist. He uses this when he puts on his "pragmatic administrator" mask. Instead of facing up to the reality that we sometimes have to choose between scientific advances and morality, or between civil liberties and national security, or between environmental regulations and economic development, Obama pretends he can solve these conflicts through some sort of Hegelian synthesis only he is wise enough to comprehend.
"Deficit reduction": Deficit increases. Obama suggests that he will cut the rate at which the deficit is growing -- something he has never actually achieved -- and acts as though this is actual deficit reduction. It's the equivalent of a woman spending $2,000 on her credit card, then informing her credit card company that though she won't pay off her debt, she'll only spend $1,500 next month.
"Let me be clear": Let me lie to you.
"Make no mistake": See "let me be clear."
"Unprecedented": When he's doing something beneficial for the American people, Obama claims he is the first to ever think of it; when he's doing something harmful, he seems to always find a precedent for it in FDR or LBJ.
"This isn't about me": This is completely about me.
"Hitting the reset button": Refusing to learn from the mistakes of the past and acting as though a fresh start requires utter naivete.
"Reaching out to the other side of the aisle": Totally rejecting all ideas from anyone outside the Obama-approved bubble. Then suggesting that subsequent political impasses are their fault, and that they ought to bend down and grab their ankles to establish a new tone in Washington.
"Failed policies of the past": Don't blame me! Blame Bush!
"Teachable moment": I screwed something up, now I'll brag about it.
"Tax cut": Redistribution of money from those who pay a disproportionate amount of taxes to those who pay none.
"Transparency": Deliberate opaqueness, hiding crucial facts from the American public.
"Accountability": Don't worry, I'll fire someone.
"Stimulus": Payoffs to friends.
"Shovel-ready jobs": Jobs that no one wants and that last for two months.
"Green jobs": Imaginary jobs.
"Saved or created": Old Obama language used to futz the numbers on jobs.
"Recovery": Continued economic stagnation.
"Jobs funded": Jobs Obama will take credit for, even though he has done nothing to either save or create.
"It won't happen overnight": It will never happen.
"Cynics": Anyone who doesn't believe in the Obama radical agenda. Obama uses this word to disparage his critics as angry and lacking in basic qualities of human kindness.
Watch for these phrases while marveling at Obama's supposed rhetorical brilliance. They shouldn't be taken at face value, because Obama isn't a master of pure artistry of the English language -- he's a master at manipulation above all.
I have just put up something on my Paralipomena blog about Finland, for anybody who takes an interest in that country. I have also recently put up a bit on my personal blog for anybody who takes an interest in that.
SOTU: I will micromanage your life: "It's so sad to watch the State of the Union. I’m reading his speech as he reads it nearly word for word on the teleprompters. The president makes endless promises while Congress sycophantically applauds. It’s as if he’s saying, “We’re the magic politicians and we can solve all your problems. I will cut that deficit that I inherited from President Bush but simultaneously cut taxes for all of you! I will give you a new jobs bill: green jobs, subsidized speedy trains, hand-outs for small business, tax credits for big business. And then Congress applauds itself for spending more of your money. But we already have an idea of what this will really do: enrich accountants and tax lawyers. We’ve seen it in those stimulus “tax cuts” he bragged about."
Hot air is hard to remember: "Authors, editors and speechwriters interviewed by The Associated Press agree President Obama is indeed a gifted and effective speechmaker," the AP reports from New York. There's just one problem: Even admirers have a hard time remembering what he actually says. Ted Widmer, who edited an anthology of political speeches for the Library of America, praised President Obama for his "masterful" style, but could not cite a specific line the president said. Similar observations were made by Jeff Shesol, David Frum and Harry C. McPherson, who wrote speeches for presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson, respectively. "The speech he made in Cairo--I remember the intelligence, the breadth and the reasonableness," McPherson says. "But I can't tell you--and this is one of the shortcomings of the kind of speech he makes--I can't quote anything, or cite anything, off the top of my head." [That was a characteristic of Hitler's speeches too. They sounded great as he gave them but not so good the morning after]
Indonesia mulls tearing down Obama statue: "Indonesian authorities said Monday they are considering a petition to tear down a statue of US President Barack Obama as a boy, only a month after the bronze was unveiled in Jakarta. The statue of "Little Barry" -- as Obama was known when he lived in the capital in the late 1960s -- stands in central Jakarta's Menteng Park, a short walk from the US president's former elementary school. Critics say the site should have been used to honour an Indonesian and 55,000 people have joined a page on social networking website Facebook calling for the statue to be removed.... Members of the "Take Down the Barack Obama Statue in Menteng Park" group on Facebook say Obama has done nothing for Indonesia."
Excellent! Haiti government gets only 1 cent of US aid dollar: "Less than a penny of each dollar the U.S. is spending on earthquake relief in Haiti is going in the form of cash to the Haitian government, according to an Associated Press review of relief efforts. Two weeks after President Obama announced an initial $100 million for Haiti earthquake relief, U.S. government spending on the disaster has nearly quadrupled to $379 million, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced Wednesday.”
Who will pay for new child care spending?: "Some parents will probably welcome the news of more subsidized child care. But they need to remember that their children are the ones who will end up paying for the billions that will be added to the ballooning national debt, which is set to explode over the next decade. Put in that perspective, parents and taxpayers need to ask: is another ‘investment’ in child care or preschool really worth it?”
Death and taxes: "According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 30 percent of the world’s population lacks regular access to medicines, with this figure rising to over 50 percent in the poorest parts of Asia and Africa. Governments have often blamed this on the price of medicines, and have responded with a number of market interventions such as price controls and compulsory licenses. However, our new research released this week shows that governments themselves are major contributors to the final retail price of medicines, through import tariffs and a range of domestic taxes. While such tariffs are gradually declining around the world, they are still as high as 15% – thereby acting as a tax on sick people. Other low-income countries such as Ghana and Bangladesh increase the cost of medicines with import duties of between 6% and 8% - self-defeating in countries with such high disease burdens. Some countries levy especially punitive tariffs on antibiotics, hampering the fight against infectious disease. The worst offenders are Nigeria (20%), Burundi (15%), Nepal (15%) and Congo (15%). In contrast, countries like Rwanda, Kenya, Gabon and Saudi Arabia have recently abolished import duties on medicines"
Tennis and luck: " Being an avid tennis fan, it has irked me that Woody Allen appears to believe that whether you win or lose a match is a matter of luck. That seems to have been his viewpoint in the movie he made a few years ago, appropriately titled Match Point. Although I find nearly every work of his intelligent and stimulating, I also consider this positions he appears to be driving home to his audiences quite mistaken. And watching the matches at the Australian Open, as I have been doing these last few days, and many of them at the U. S. Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the other tournaments I try to catch year after year suggest quite strongly that Woody is wrong about how tennis matches are won, at least the majority of the time... And never mind how destructive it can be for people to come to believe this idea, possibly leading them to give up on trying, on learning, on training and so forth since by the tenets of the thesis none of that matters, it is all an illusion."
Britain is no longer free: "It’s official — the UK is no longer a free country. Well, semi-official, because the judgement comes from the independent Heritage Foundation, based in Washington DC, which has been compiling its influential Index of Economic Freedom for a decade and a half. … Sure, we are better than North Korea, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Eritrea and Burma, which make up the tail end of the Index. But in any index of free countries, it is a bit galling to fall behind Chile. Galling, but certainly fair.”
Laffer: Obama’s “train wreck” ahead: "Arthur Laffer, creator of the Laffer Curve that showed how low tax rates boost economic growth, is warning anyone who will listen that the economy is headed for a ‘train wreck’ in 2011 that will make the current recession look tame by comparison. The famed economist, whose supply-side, tax-cutting policies enacted by President Reagan in 1981 put the economy on a record-breaking, 25-year economic trajectory of growth and prosperity, is telling Americans not to be lulled by sporadic signs of growth this year, because the economy is headed for a sharper decline next year when tax rates are expected to jump sharply, sending the economy into a new tailspin.”
Conservatives should praise even a small step in the right direction: "The instinctive Republican response (see, e.g., this RNC release) to President Obama’s call for a domestic discretionary spending freeze is to dismiss it as not serious — saying, oh, no, it’s not a real freeze because the baseline is high, and anyway he doesn’t mean it, and here’s what he said in the campaign, etc., etc. However true this indictment in its substantive particulars, it strikes me as politically misguided. Republicans, in a spirit of bipartisanship, should praise the president for beginning to come to his senses about too much government spending (and for acknowledging at the same time that national security spending can’t be frozen).”
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)
Posted by JR at 12:35 AM