Evening in America?
Of course, it doesn’t have to be. Evening in America that is. But that seems to be the direction we are headed. Pessimism abounds. Our high school students lag behind their counterparts around the world in almost every field. Federal debt has ballooned, so that it now exceeds our GDP. The economy is sputtering, with an Administration more focused on social justice and “fairness” than fiscal prudence and repairing the economy. Jobs are scarcer than hen’s teeth, yet Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation reported two weeks ago that 53% of the income tax increases the Administration is asking for will come from businesses. Equity markets are frozen. And we have a President whose imperialistic inclinations have created more “czars” in the past three and a half years than were produced in Russia in the past 1000 years.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might want to reclaim the re-set button she presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in March, 2009. At the time, she was interested in repairing the diplomatic damage inflicted when President Bush defended the fledging Republic of Georgia, which Russia had invaded. Now Russia has become a bête noire to an America that is attempting to deal with a renegade Syria and an Iran in pursuit of nuclear weapons. As a promoter of democracy and guarantor of the peace, and a country that others have long admired, America is but a shadow of its former self.
Twenty-eight years ago, President Reagan ran for re-election on the theme: “Morning in America.” He was able to say that more men and women were going to work than ever before. In contrast, Mr. Obama must deal with the fact that there are three million fewer jobs today than there were when he assumed the Presidency. Mr. Reagan was able to point out that two thousand families were able to move into new housing every day – a number higher than today, despite a population that is 30% larger. Inflation and interest rates – his biggest challenge upon becoming President – had been halved.
Today, President Obama is running for re-election on the basis of “fairness” – that millionaires and billionaires should pay their “fair share” – and then painting a dark (and misleading) picture of what his opponent would do. Instead of unifying the country – remember the purple that was supposed to replace red and blue states – the President has compartmentalized his myriad support groups, so as to more easily appeal to their emotions and exploit the divisions. Hispanics, African Americans, union members, women, the young, the old, and the vulnerable have been segregated into campaign-convenient groupings. Divide and conquer is a strategy that has worked for millennia in military affairs, but it is not a strategy that carries a positive message. And it is not a strategy that helps heal a nation divided over what government should be.
The problems predate Mr. Obama. This has not been a sudden lurch to the left – though it has surely accelerated – but part of a trend begun years ago. About 48% of all American workers paid no Federal income taxes when Mr. Obama took office, meaning that almost half the taxpayers had no skin in the game. Today, the number exceeds fifty percent. For the first time since the Depression, American households are receiving more income from the government than they are paying the government in taxes. It brings to mind Alexis de Tocqueville’s warning: “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilization has been 200 years.” That does not mean our democracy is doomed, but it certainly means we should proceed with caution.
Of all the charges that have been laid against our 44th President, the ones that are the most sobering are those that reflect his decisions to govern unilaterally. In Last Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Kimberly Strassel identified fourteen examples of Mr. Obama overriding the legislative process. In certain cases, like the Dream Act, he did so not because Congress would not have approved the law, but because he wanted to take political credit. He knew it would help with Latino voters. In other instances, he deliberately went around Congress, which had voted down legislation like cap-and-trade and “card-check,” utilizing the Environmental Protection Agency and stacking the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB.) Ms. Strassel wrote of legislation Mr. Obama had railroaded through a Democratic Congress like the auto bailouts that violated contract law by subordinating bondholder’s rights to those of his union allies. As Ms. Strassel writes, Mr. Obama always offers the same excuse: “We tried working with Congress, but it didn’t pan out – so we did what we had to do.” That may be efficient, but it sure isn’t democratic. His words, “We did what we had to do,” should send chills up the spines of all who understand history.
The President has presided over a number of records, none of them good: our Federal debt – at over 100% of GDP – is the highest since World War II. For the first time in our nation’s history, our debt was downgraded. The budget deficit, at 10% of GDP, is the highest since World War II, as is Federal spending as a percent of GDP. The percent of the working population actually working (58.1%) is the lowest since 1983. Long term unemployment is the highest since the 1930s. Government dependency, at 47% – defined as those receiving one or more benefits – is the highest in American history, while the percent of those paying Federal income taxes (49%) is the lowest. Our leaders should be emphasizing personal responsibility and independence – asking, as President Kennedy once did, not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for it – not ladling out gifts with our money.
In every society there are winners and losers. But what distinguishes democracies is their emphasis on personal freedom. When Henry Kissinger, at the age of 15, arrived in this country in 1938, having escaped Hitler’s Germany and arriving in New York, he noticed a sign over a store in Yiddish and wondered, how could that be? It was his introduction to a democratic republic, in which people are free to express themselves. Democracies, though, are delicate in that, while they can withstand batterings from without, they can be compromised from within. Benjamin Franklin, in 1787, was supposedly asked what form of a government was being proposed. His alleged response: “A republic, if you can keep it.” In 1990, Milton Friedman wrote: “A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.” Words to consider, as we ponder Mr. Obama’s emphasis on fairness.
The contrast between today and 1984 is telling. President Reagan was transformational, as Mr. Obama hoped to be. But he did so in a way that emphasized the importance of the individual. His sunny disposition, which unified a nation soured by the disillusion of the Carter years, can be contrasted with the dour visage of Mr. Obama who has raised the level of dissonance by dividing the country between rich and poor, ignoring the aspirant and encouraging those dissidents who agree with him. His cynicism has allowed crony capitalism to prosper in myriad industries from banking to solar. In 1984, the buck stopped with Mr. Reagan, as it did with Harry Truman. Mr. Obama represents the antithesis. With him, as one wag put it, the buck stopped with Mr. Bush.
Mr. Obama has brought sad tidings to our country. Granted, he inherited a tough situation. Financial markets had come close to collapse and, while they were recovering, they were still fragile. The economy was in decline. The country was riven by unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet Mr. Obama chose to focus on “change.” He pushed his personal agenda with its culture of dependency, rather than repairing what was broken – the economy. He ignored the commission he had established to address the debt and deficit problems. Instead of working with Republicans to create bipartisan solutions, he elected to go alone. Nine days after his inauguration in 2009, he responded to Republican gripes about his proposed stimulus package; “I won.” He did nothing to create an atmosphere of conciliation.
A President whose desire to be transformational detracts from his responsibilities to the people and the Republic he was elected to serve does not deserve re-election. If he should be, it would amount to evening descending on our shores. It doesn’t have to be. November cannot come soon enough.