Metropolitik: State of the Union was optimistic pablum
President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday was, as many have pointed out, full of bombastic campaign rhetoric — which makes total sense, as that’s pretty much the point. Obama did say a lot of stuff worthy of support: Talk of tax reform and education investment is a step in the right direction. Of course, any initiative more ambitious than a routine debt limit authorization may have significant trouble getting through Congress, but it’s nice to pretend. Speaking of pretend, we fact check the president:
Obama bookends his policy proposals and congressional critiques with a glorification of American military efficiency. Praising advancement in the U.S. war on terror, Obama lauds the “courage, selflessness, and teamwork of America’s armed forces,” saying civilians could benefit “if we followed their example.”
Reality: U.S. citizens are not members of an elite fighting unit. Cooperation is nice, but it’s insane to project our rigid, hierarchical military structure onto a democracy where everyone has a right to individuality. Obama also overstates gains in Afghanistan and Iraq, where historic sectarian divisions threaten to put the lie to trillions in wasteful military expenditures.
The president claims to have put “in place new rules to hold Wall Street accountable, so a crisis like that never happens again.” And later says he “will not go back to the days when Wall Street was allowed to play by its own set of rules.”
Reality: Legislators have not gone nearly far enough to ensure that we don’t suffer another financial crisis down the line. This shouldn’t be terribly surprising due to a deadly pair of conditions:?the disinclination among most politicians to upset the apple cart and legislate against the interests of their Wall Street donors; and, perhaps more inflammatory, the irrational trust bestowed upon financial industry veterans — who, under Obama as under previous presidents, hold high advisory roles allowing them to manipulate reform law. (The much-ballyhooed Dodd-Frank legislation naturally ignores the structural causes of 2008’s collapse.)
“When it comes to the deficit, we’ve already agreed to more than $2 trillion in cuts and savings. But we need to do more.”
Reality: Contrary to the Tea Party push to “cut, cut, cut”, most influential economists agree that spending is the sure path toward growth. The president weakens his ability to fix the economy when he repeats the unfactual rhetoric of the right. Think of government spending as a student loan for the betterment of America’s future: Students must take on debt to increase their earning potential; later, after putting loan monies to good use, they will be in a position to pay down that debt. Government needs to provide more stimulus to create jobs and prosperity. Once that is achieved, we can safely deal with the debt issue.
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