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Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Empty Suit at the State of Union

While the American media exhibits a distasteful, cultist devotion to Obama, the foreign media is starting to wake up to the fact that he is, in fact, an empty suit. Peter Foster writes at the Telegraph:
When Barack Obama won a second term in office last November a tiny, guttering flame of hope was observed in the breasts of many hard-pressed Americans who wanted common sense to prevail in Washington.
That hope centred not on any naive expectation that Democrats and Republicans would suddenly learn to love each other, but that Mr Obama, freed from having to run for office again and in search of a personal legacy for his presidency, might start to show some leadership.
Last week, sad to report, those hopes flickered and died when Mr Obama delivered a State of the Union address that showed he has absolutely no intention of getting serious about arresting America's long-term financial death-spiral.
This was an infuriatingly dishonest speech. Mr Obama spelled out very clearly America's impending demographic crunch – too many baby-boomers, not enough money to pay for their benefits – but then falsely pretended the problem could be solved by tinkering around the edges.
"Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms," he allowed, warning that failure to fix America's unsustainable entitlement system would "crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardise the promise of a secure retirement for future generations."
All true, except for that one word, "modest". There is nothing modest about the size of America's financial problems, as Doug Elmendorf, the director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, explained last week when he was up on Capitol Hill spelling out budgetary home truths.
As Mr Elmendorf told the Senate Budget Committee: "It's very difficult, if you look at our projections, to see how you can put the budget ultimately on a sustainable path, without making significant changes in either those large benefit programmes or in the taxes paid by the broad cross-section of Americans."
In plain English, that either means less generous benefits delivered at a later stage in life, or higher taxes across the board - or, in a common-sense world, a bit of both. But whatever the combination of spending cuts or new revenues, the changes required are "significant", not "modest", and the longer America waits, the more painful and damaging those costs will be.
... This is where Mr Obama comes in. Or could have, had he chosen a more courageous path last Tuesday night and dared to take on the left wing of his party who continue to delude themselves - as Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic Leader observed before the speech – that America doesn't really "have a spending problem".
... Mr Obama had a chance – very likely his last, given the political shelf-life of second term presidents - to offer a real fix and call the bluff of Republicans like House speaker John Boehner who predicted before the speech the president didn't "have the guts" to confront his own party.
If that was a challenge to Mr Obama, he ducked it. Very likely you would have heard a pin drop on both sides of the aisle if the president had actually proposed something meaningful, but sometimes shocked silence from your own side, rather than the empty acclaim he received, is what true leadership sounds like.
Even clear-thinking Democrats were disappointed. As Matt Bennett, a former Clinton White House staffer who co-founded the centrist Third Way think-tank, put it: "This was the moment to put the chips on the table and press Democrats the way he's pressed Republicans on everything else, and make some concessions. He left the door ajar, but he didn't make a strong case that Democrats need to walk through it. That was the big missing piece."
Instead, Mr Obama chose the path of timidity and half-truths. He offered a laundry-list of goodies – universal pre-school education, Space Race-levels of scientific research, new roads and bridges – while falsely promising these are affordable with only 'modest reforms' to entitlements that accounted for 43 per cent of all federal spending in 2012.

... Perhaps he thought it a fool's errand dealing with today's Republican Party, but still Mr Obama had a fleeting chance to reframe the debate; to play the role of deal-maker and save the entitlement system his party cherishes, possibly before a future Republican president does something far more drastic.
He elected not to take it; preferring to tell America you can still have your cake and eat it. So what is the true State of the Union? Like one of those morbidly obese folk you see all too often here, waddling up to the fast-food counter to order a super-sized meal and then taking a diet soda on the side, because they're "watching their weight", it is dangerously self-deluded.

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