Can America Pull Out of Its Nose-Dive?
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
It was a seriously demoralizing experience to read that the majority of Americans thought that Barack Obama gave a good State of the Union speech this week. Their approval may indicate that the process of the country’s decline is more advanced even than I had feared.
I have been watching these occasions since the Kennedy-Johnson years, and they sometimes click and sometimes don’t. One of the better and more successful addresses was Gerald Ford’s in 1975, beginning “The State of the Union is not good. I do not expect much applause tonight.” The people like straight talk, the applause was generous, and the speech well received by the country. (And in fact, America’s condition was much better then than it is now.)
One of the only positive notes from this year’s disappointing speech came when the President praised the (Republican) speaker of the House, his official host who sat grimly behind him — right beside Vice-President Joe Biden, who giggled like he was being tickled by a motel’s Magic Fingers device in his chair: Speaker John Boehner did not, as is his disturbing custom, burst into tears.
No nation in history rose so quickly from obscurity to world leadership, and none since the Roman Empire has enjoyed such preeminence, as the United States. After playing a genius strategic hand from aid to the democracies in 1939-1941, the military conduct of the Second World War in the years following, to the containment strategy opposite the Soviet Union, until it was left alone as the world’s only great power, the United States then suddenly became, in public-policy terms, an almost unrelievedly stupid country, about 20 years ago. During the Cold War, the United States led the triumph of democracy in Europe, South and East Asia and Latin America–yet it now no longer ranks as one the world’s better functioning democracies.
President Obama told his listeners that they were all “part of the American family.” A girl in Tucson may “have dreams like the rest of us,” which, the President astonishingly believes, “is what sets us apart as a nation”; just as he believes that “throughout history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists with the support that they need.” (It has done nothing of the kind, apart from some Second World War-era military activities, and NASA — which President Obama himself has helped to emasculate.)
“We measure our progress by the success of our people,” progress that is partly “thanks to tax cuts we passed,” the President declared — referring to the Bush tax cuts that Obama tried fervently to end.
He promised to “raise expectations for every child” and “get rid of loopholes” in the tax system (i. e. raise rates); “find a bipartisan solution to strengthening Social Security … make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt”; connect 98% of Americans to high-speed wireless in five years and make high-speed rail travel accessible to 80% of Americans within 25 years.
Millionaires must “give up their tax break,” (which they don’t have), and there are millions of clean jobs to be created (a complete and imperishable fantasy). There were promises of “rebuilding America,” and to “put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges”; as well as double exports by 2014, “take on illegal immigration”; and make a portentous “review of government regulations.” He is “eager to work with” Republicans who can make his catastrophic health reform “better and more effective.”
In foreign affairs, “we must defeat determined enemies wherever they are”; and “our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people”; (it was at this point that I first wondered if the President had become a POW in the insane and failed American War on Drugs). He hailed “tougher and tighter sanctions” on Iran (though they are porous and completely ineffectual), and claimed to have “revitalized NATO,” an alliance that is now completely moribund and confused, after 10 years of incompetent post-9/11 American leadership.
The President recognizes that American corporations are grossly overtaxed, and he now favors the Colombian free trade agreement — stalled for years by the AFL-CIO and Nancy Pelosi, in their enthusiasm for the Colombian communist guerrillas and their drug-lord allies. Looking about at the members of Congress, most of them representing what amount to rotten boroughs, the President happily averred that “There isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth” (unfortunately true).
The replies from Representative Paul Ryan and Representative Michele Bachmann — delivering, respectively, the official GOP response and the unofficial Tea Party response — detailed problems with the President’s economic vision, but in fact did not present a coherent reply at all. (The whole idea of a reply is in itself offensive. The chief of state is supposed to be giving an impartial summary of the nation’s condition. There were no replies until the leftist national media tried to help the Democrats reply to the overpoweringly eloquent Ronald Reagan. And while the Tea Party movement is refreshing in some respects, its co-equal status with the Republican establishment is just an attempt of the same biased media to divide the conservatives; moreover, the name is nonsense, as the British tax on tea of 1767 was, contrary to widespread mythology, quite unexceptionable.)
The replies were redundant, in any case: None of President Obama’s aerated, flippant promises are believable in the slightest, coming from the most overzealous regulator and profligate spender in the nation’s history. There was not a hint of policies to reduce oil imports, increase domestic oil production, reduce the cost of health care, cut spending (beyond a five-year freeze on 12% of budgetary outlays), pare entitlements, reform the tax system, reverse the (admitted by Obama) decline of education standards, reform the prosecutors’ shooting gallery of a justice system, or grapple realistically with the debt bomb rather than just participate in a silent cabal with the European Union and Japan to devalue all of their currencies together, and thus reduce the debt (along with the net worth of all those who save or have fixed incomes).
The United States is a rich country whose people are patriotic and hard-working. It is disoriented and very corrupt, and all its elites have failed. And yet it has no real rivals. Europe is crumbling, even more idle and debt-ridden than the United States, and withering demographically, almost comatose after generations of paying Danegeld to the urban mobs and small farmers. Japan is a geriatric workshop; Russia is an alcohol-sodden, self-depopulating gangster-state; and India, China, Brazil, and Indonesia comprise over three billion people, more than two-thirds of whom live as they did 3,000 years ago. They are putting up good economic-growth numbers, but China’s inflation rate is now in double digits, and all of those countries are largely dysfunctional and will require decades to have any chance of seriously rivalling America. This should provide time for the United States to pull out of its nose-dive. President Obama said, “We do big things.” The United States has, but after this presentational fiasco, I would not like to think of what he might have in mind for an encore.
A version of this column originally appeared in the National Post of Canada.