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Thursday, 27 January 2011
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State of the Union Address - Summary

So now that the alcohol has metabolized, and I've had a chance to really digest what was said (and I'm not as busy), I figured it would be worth providing some final thoughts to the State of the Union which I live blogged two nights ago. What struck me early on was how little substance there was. I know it seems like most State of the Union addresses always contain more flowery language than substance, but this one seemed to be even more devoid of specifics.

Obama did a nice job recognizing the Republican achievement of the election, as well as highlighting the fact that tax cuts actually were passed as part of the stimulus. In effect, he tried to make himself look Conservative. In fact, one of the surprises from the speech (in my opinion) wasn't what he talked about, but rather what he didn't talk about... gun control. After what happened to Rep. Giffords, it would have been easy to make that a central point in the speech, but he never even mentioned it. Later on in the speech, Obama also surprised me by barely mentioning immigration reform. No proposal, no grand ideas... merely a promise that we must do something and that it will be difficult. Well... duh.

One of the things that is very typical of State of the Unions is the propensity of Presidents to very quickly state one thing, and then propose a program or solution that will do the exact opposite. State of the Unions tend to beg for opposites. In this case, it was Obama talking about the need to "win the future", when all he could do was talk about the past. He did this not only by invoking the memory of Sputnik, but with his stories of times long one by when people might start working at a company out of high school and continue on at that same company until retirement. And while that is rarely the case any more, he actually showed no reason why this change was bad. In fact, from my own personal experience, I think we're better off as a society when this happens as infrequently as it now does. Companies are more free to shed dead weight without guilt, and people are required to keep their skills honed. Of course, he immediately transitioned to the bogeyman of China and India, because after all, those countries run manufacturing like we used to and look how much they export! We must catch up! But Obama's view on trade is incredibly short sited. A "trade deficit" is not a bad thing, if it allows you to buy certain things cheaper than you can build then so that you can allocate those savings in other things. And that's precisely what we do.

Another place where he swung wildly from ideal to the opposite reality was in his view of innovation. He said "None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from." And yet, almost immediately he lists the industries that he wants to not only stop giving subsidies too (which is fine by me), but also all the new industries that he wants to subsidize. And yet it begs the simple question... If we can't know what next big industry will be successful, how can the government choose to subsidize and choose one? Of course, Obama touted the government's minor involvement in the start of the internet, and with GPS, but I believe incorrectly tries to take credit for the micro chip, which was developed by Texas Instruments and Bell Labs... no government help needed. The light bulb? Television? Telephones? Even his beloved railroad. Entire industries cropped up without the government so much as planting a seed.

His commitments to higher education also show a basic misunderstanding of the cost and benefits of a college degree. The more money which the government has pumped into colleges and universities, the more expensive it has become. Government money doesn't reduce the cost of the education... its merely treated as icing on the cake for Universities. Government wants to give everyone an extra few grand for college? The colleges will simply bump up the prices by a few extra grand. How handy. And where does it lead us? More graduates with Journalism degrees, Women's Studies degrees and the ever valuable degree in Art History. The Chinese won't stand a chance.

Most troubling was Obama's continuation of the tradition of Presidential ignorance in the responsibilities of the Federal government in primary and secondary education. Presidents, with greater frequency and power, have made it seem as if they controlled the curriculum of our students, and paid our teachers, instead of our States and local School Districts. The only thing the Federal government can do is tax us locally, launder the money through the Dept. of Education, and then blackmail states into changing requirements to get their own damn money back. Why? Because nowhere in the Constitution does it actually say that the Federal government can control education.

As if all these false promises weren't enough so far, he then adds to the pile by promising reforms to regulations that hurt businesses. He then goes on to list all the supposedly good regulations that shouldn't be touched, that hurt businesses greatly, from the newest banking regulations (which have caused massive increases to fees for consumers) and ObamaCare which will increase health care costs, and creates great uncertainty for business which makes them afraid to invest. And of course, let's not forget his meaningless promise to cut spending, much of which is actually just a promise to reduce the size of an increase, not actually decrease spending. And let's not forget, we have to reform Social Security, but do it in such a way that nobody will lose anything. Yeah... good luck with that. I'd like a pony while you're at it.

At the end of the night, we were left with a lot of platitudes, and no real ideas... and certainly nothing controversial. Maybe that was the goal the entire time, but it just seemed flat. Megan McArdle says that it reminded her of a speech given by the CEO of a dying company. And if you're looking for more specific rebuttals of the ideas that Obama put forth, CATO put together this fantastic video:

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