RANCHO SANTA FE, CA., January 26, 2011 – In an effort to “blend” the Democratic and Republican wings of Congress, President Obama delivered a “bland” State of the Union address last night. His inspirational motto was, “We do big things,” which probably won’t remind anyone of how Kennedy, Reagan, or Clinton could turn a phrase. In fairness, he was in a tough position: he needed to create hope in a downtrodden economy. The President cheered us on saying, “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” He offered “five pillars” of hope: innovation, education, infrastructure, deficit reduction, and government reform. Was the President offering a “common sense” approach to fixing the economy, or was he just launching his re-election campaign? The Czar would like to know.
The President offered all sorts of platitudes to American ingenuity. “America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs.” Then, he stated that the “world has changed” and our otherwise resilient, hard-working citizens “feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game … (that) revolutions in technology have transformed the way (they) live, work and do business.” Apparently, this happened behind our backs because he mentioned that “nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world.”
Just when I was getting ready to blame this on the Bush Administration, President Obama said, “Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution.” Oh, my! Do you realize what this means? It’s not President Bush’s fault at all … it’s Al Gore’s! After all, he invented the Internet and he’s incredibly good at warning us about the future. From a Democratic perspective, this is really an inconvenient truth! However, we can rebound from this political faux pas if we just apply common sense. Each of us can recover our market losses if we just invest in mass refrigeration technologies that can reverse Global Warming.
The President also said, “Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout history our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need.” That must be why the Department of Energy has been so successful in achieving its original objective: to free our country from its dependence upon foreign oil. It also explains why the cost of pharmaceuticals has plummeted under the guidance of the FDA. Okay … bad examples! Let’s move on.
Again, let’s begin with platitudes. The President proclaimed, “We are home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any other place on Earth.” Apparently, comparing our educational system favorably to those of nations like China and India, he said, “It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like ‘What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?’” Then, he added, “as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to 9th in the proportion of young people with a college degree.” Let’s see: we have “the world’s best colleges and universities” but 25 percent of our young adults “aren’t even finishing high school … (and) the quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.” That might explain why “our students don’t just memorize equations.” It’s probably because they can’t. One common-sense solution that I think we should pursue to improve our educational system is to study the one used in Indonesia. If all of our children could read a Teleprompter like President Obama, our test scores would rise precipitously.
The President helped us gain an additional perspective of what it will take to improve the educational process in America. Hillary was wrong; “it’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child” … not a Village. “When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance.” I guess that’s the death knell of the current approach that’s in vogue under which everybody passes and gets a trophy. The President also spoke about a new competition that will help in this regard that’s called, “Race to the Top.” Even though it may sound like a new term for Affirmative Action, it really isn’t. It just applies common sense and leverages “best practices.”
While the President didn’t mention how unions might contribute to the improvement, he did cite South Korea’s respect for its teachers and said, “We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.” That should go over well with the teacher’s unions, which have always been strong proponents of meritocracies over tenure-driven positions.
President Obama even wove immigration into the issue by noting that the children of “undocumented workers … can staff our research labs, start new businesses, and further enrich this nation.” I think there’s a common-sense solution hidden in that statement. Let’s create border signage that says, “Only scientists, entrepreneurs, and other brilliant people are allowed to enter illegally beyond this point.” Problem solved!
“Our infrastructure used to be the best – but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports,” the President said. We seem to be consistently falling behind China and South Korea. Maybe we should encourage their citizens to illegally immigrate to the United States. Continuing with that thought: when the President stated, “America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad” I seem to recall that we had the assistance of a lot of “undocumented” Chinese workers in the laying of track. He may be onto something.
Then, the President got specific. “We will put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We will make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based on what’s best for the economy, not politicians.” I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we revert to the Clintonian concept of eliminating welfare entitlements? Why don’t we train able-bodied people who currently receive federal assistance to do these jobs? That would seem to be common sense.
Advancing the discussion to more contemporary pursuits, President Obama suggested that “within the next five years” we could provide “high-speed wireless coverage to 98% of all Americans.” Given that our Nation’s illiteracy currently stands at about 15 percent, we can only hope that the graphics will be worth the investment. The President did note that this would also allow “a patient (to) have face-to-face video chats with her doctor,” which is a good thing since that might be the only way we’ll get to see our doctors in the future.
The President also explored “our generation’s Sputnik moment.” No, he wasn’t suggesting that we put a monkey into orbit, but rather that we “invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology – an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.” He promised that “with more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.” Of course, that could bring down the entire electrical grid, but it’s just rhetoric anyway. In the end, all of this can be accomplished by “asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.” I’d add that we can probably eliminate the Department of Energy and its $25 billion budget. How’s that for common sense?
Speaking of “investing,” the CBO announced today that it’s projecting a $1.5 trillion deficit for our country (a new record by orders of magnitude). The President is sensitive to this issue. He proposed that we “freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years” because “this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade.” Let’s see: we would be freezing it at its highest historical level. That certainly sounds like a good idea.
The President pointed out that our country has “one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world” that needs to be reduced to stimulate growth. He said, “When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them.” Then, with respect to income tax, he stated that we need to “get rid of the loopholes.” For a moment, I thought he might have switched Parties until he added, “We simply cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.” At that point, I felt like order had been restored.
I liked the President’s comments about having “to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt” and that “we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in.” He pointed out that he had already “frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years.” While there’s an obvious oxymoron in the statement, the concept is worth praising.
President Obama talked about cutting tens of billions of dollars from the Department of Defense as well as in other areas of the budget with the caveat: “Let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.” A little campaigning never hurts.
The President acknowledged the bipartisan Fiscal Commission he created last year and said, “Their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it – in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes.” He added, “I don’t agree with all their proposals, but they made important progress.” Given our current economic condition, it would have been interesting to learn about the proposals with which he disagreed. I particularly liked the line: “If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the investments we need to win the future.” It gave me a better understanding of his “We do big things” mantra; he must have meant big spending, big deficits, and big government.
The most deafening applause was withheld until President Obama spoke about government reform; I say deafening because I don’t recall hearing much of it. The President confided, “We’re selling acres of federal office space that hasn’t been used in years, and we will cut through red tape to get rid of more. But we need to think bigger. In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.” I guess that means the 159 new agencies that Congress created in the Health Care Reform Bill will probably go away. I also hope he officially gets rid of the rest of the czars because I find them to be annoying.
The President received at least one faint clap when he said, “if a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.” Of course, President Clinton is believed to have advised President Obama that “it depends on what the definition of earmarks is.” Still, I liked his common sense concepts of a “government that’s open and competent … a government that lives within its means … (and) an economy that’s driven by new skills and ideas.” I wish him luck.
One of the President’s opening comments summed things up: “At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else.” That’s probably why he appointed Jeff Immelt, GE’s CEO, as the Chair of his Economic Advisory Board. Mr. Immelt has cut about 21,000 jobs and now employs about 53 percent of his company’s workforce overseas, so he understands the issues.
I found the following comments to be interesting. “We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back (the stock market used to be “bad”) … corporate profits are up (corporate profits used to be “bad”) … (and) thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans’ paychecks are a little bigger today (tax cuts used to be “bad” as well).” There was a definite centrist flair to the President’s speech last night.
This may have been a State of the Union address, but rest assured, the 2012 campaign has officially begun. I’m just trying to figure out whether President Obama will be running as a Demoblican or a Republicrat so he can effectively straddle the issues. As for the “five pillars” … let me be clear (as the President might say) … they bear no relationship to the Five Pillars of Islam. It was only an unfortunate coincidence.
T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.
This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, The Common Sense Czar, in the Communities Section of The Washington Times.