The State of the Union: An Inside Report
By: Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson
On Tuesday evening, I had the honor of attending the State of the Union address as the guest of Congressman Mike Kelly (PA-03). Here are my impressions in abbreviated form:
The address seemed more like a rewrite of previous speeches than an original work. Sure, there were new anecdotes and fresh twists on old policy proposals, but the essential narrative remains: My predecessor messed up; none of your problems are my fault; I can make life fairer if Congress will approve my plans to increase federal spending and take more money from Peter to help Paul.
Even President Obama’s partisan allies seem to have wearied of the “same old, same old.” I was struck by how often the Democratic applause seemed tepid and tentative. (It sounded louder on the TV replay—amazing how electronics can create an illusion.) Statements that would have elicited enthusiastic cheers three years ago were met with uneasy silence. Yes, Democrats stood and clapped when the president mentioned one of their pet causes, but their efforts seemed forced, neither heartfelt nor genuine.
The president started and finished by paying tribute to our military and stating the truism that Americans can accomplish great things when we are united. Bravo. But in between those patriotic bookends was a dismal speech. Could the American people possibly be ignorant or gullible enough to accept all the fallacies and half-truths in this speech? Here is a sampling:
The president claimed that three million jobs have been created in the last 22 months. Perhaps. But how many jobs have ended during that same time period? Labor force participation is still trending down, and unemployment and underemployment remain so severe that 19 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 are living with their parents. These are not signs of a healthy job market.
President Obama promised no more bailouts, yet one of his pet causes is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that authorizes bailouts of “too big to fail” financial institutions. He promised no more handouts, yet in the same speech proposed handouts and subsidies to certain businesses, homeowners, etc.
He proposed increased government control over capital and banks. He wants to require banks to refinance mortgages on terms set by the government.
He also proposed a Financial Crimes Unit to combat fraud. (Are the FBI, the Federal Reserve, and some 116 federal agencies with oversight of financial institutions not enough?) If the president succeeds in establishing an anti-fraud squad, will it crack down on the entities that promise to fund retirement programs but instead borrow money to cover current disbursements? That is what the Social Security System is doing because of President Obama’s two-percent cut in withholding from wages. Will Uncle Sam be exempt from oversight by the Financial Crimes Unit?
Even Obama’s choice of words was telling. He spoke of his desire to “consolidate” the federal bureaucracy, not “shrink” it.
At one point, Obama remarked that Americans are “cynical” about Washington. His address helps explain why. His talk of unity was belied by his second-class treatment of Republicans during the address. The Democrats had printed copies of Obama’s text—a simple courtesy denied to Republicans.
After raising the American flag and extolling the great accomplishments of our military forces, President Obama made it clear that the only federal spending he is serious about cutting is military spending. To add insult to injury, he will order the Navy to waste part of its (reduced) budget purchasing over-priced and less reliable green energy.
Imposing politically correct energy on our armed forces illustrates how obsessed this president is with centralizing economic planning. It reminds me of the Chevy Volt fiasco. First, Team Obama coerced GM into making a high-cost, uneconomical car that few people want; then it boosted the Volt’s sales figures by directing federal departments to purchase Volts. Now, after spending billions to artificially increase the supply of high-cost, uneconomical wind and solar energy, President Obama will use his authority as Commander in Chief to artificially increase demand for green energy. First, the president uses taxpayer money to subsidize an inferior, unwanted product, then he uses taxpayer money to buy it—a double whammy.
Appealing to our national pride, President Obama promised not to cede dominance in green energy production to China and Germany. Excuse me, but who wants to be Number One at losing money? Please, let the Germans and Chinese take over those money-losing boondoggles. With over $15 trillion of national debt, we can’t afford them.
President Obama’s SOTU address demonstrated that he has no intention of altering his course. If you’re satisfied with his policies over the last three years, maybe he’s your man. If you think we need to try something different, he’s probably not.
— Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.