Leave Us Alone Mr. Obama

by | Aug 30, 2011

No, President Obama, I don’t ask the government to make my life easier. I just want government to stop making it harder. After enduring a week of terrible news, we were blessed today with yet another speech by our President. And the only way to endure that is, of course, by analyzing it and revealing […]

No, President Obama, I don’t ask the government to make my life easier. I just want government to stop making it harder.

After enduring a week of terrible news, we were blessed today with yet another speech by our President. And the only way to endure that is, of course, by analyzing it and revealing its true nature. So here we go…

[T]he United States received a downgrade by one of the credit rating agencies…because after witnessing a month of wrangling over raising the debt ceiling, they doubted our political system’s ability to act.

No, “our political system” acted. And “it” even managed to do so before the much-touted August 2 deadline. What it did not manage to do was make any real cuts in spending, especially not to entitlement spending. In addition “our political system” apparently managed to spend over $200 billion of the increase in the debt ceiling, on the first day of its authorization. Imagine if I did the equivalent with one of my credit cards…

Warren Buffett, who knows a thing or two about good investments, said, “If there were a quadruple-A rating, I’d give the United States that.”

Classic example of the fallacy, argumentum ad verecundiam (appeal to authority) of the qualitative variety. I don’t care what Warren Buffet thinks of the United States credit rating, given how much I know myself about what it means to pay back one’s debts, combined with what I know about the amount of debt the United States has accumulated. Do you?

I, and most of the world’s investors, agree.

Some might call this another instance of qualitative verecundiam, because Obama is expecting his audience to treat him as an authority here. But I’ll take a pass. He does slip in a quantitative verecundiam, however, when referring to “most of the world’s investors” (“fifty million Frenchmen…”). My only question is: has Obama been watching the stock markets? At all?

The fact is, we didn’t need a rating agency to tell us that we need a balanced, long-term approach to deficit reduction. That was true last week. That was true last year. That was true the day I took office. And we didn’t need a rating agency to tell us that the gridlock in Washington over the last several months has not been constructive, to say the least.

In the process of pretending he’s just being candid, Obama manages to slip in the word “balance” — a code word for “tax increases ahead.” He also manages to lay the blame on others: Bush and prior presidents for what existed “the day he took office”; the GOP, and especially the Tea Party, for “gridlock”. Note that Obama himself was not very helpful with the “gridlock” part. As I recall, he didn’t even take the risk of putting his own plan on paper. And he has made things worse since he took office. But who’s keeping track?

We knew from the outset that a prolonged debate over the debt ceiling — a debate where the threat of default was used as a bargaining chip — could do enormous damage to our economy and the world’s. That threat, coming after a string of economic disruptions in Europe, Japan and the Middle East, has now roiled the markets and dampened consumer confidence and slowed the pace of recovery.

Two problems. First, the one most guilty of using threats as a bargaining chip was Obama himself. He threatened that Social Security checks might not go out on August 3. He threatened that we might default. And he threatened that, as a result of a decreased credit rating (which happened anyway because the plan contains no real cuts), Americans would have to pay higher interest rates on their mortgages and other debts. Second, Obama violates one one of Mill’s Methods of induction here (his method of difference). We did not default. Moreover, nothing of major significance seemed to be happening to the markets when all the threats of default were being deployed. The market dropped only after it absorbed the news of how truly phony this debt deal is. There are no real cuts in it, plus it leaves way too much uncertainty for the future. Oh, and did I mention the amount the national debt increased in one day after the debt ceiling was raised? Over $200 billion. Just wanted to make sure I didn’t leave that part out.

Our problems are eminently solvable….

This paragraph contains nothing but an empty assertion followed by repetition. Next.

Last week, we reached an agreement that will make historic cuts to defense and domestic spending. But there’s not much further we can cut in either of those categories. What we need to do now is combine those spending cuts with two additional steps: tax reform that will ask those who can afford it to pay their fair share and modest adjustments to health care programs like Medicare.

The only sense in which the “cuts” were “historic” is the extent to which they were represented as being significant when in reality they were the same sort of phony cuts–cuts only to the rates of increase in spending, cuts that don’t even kick in until after the next election–we’ve seen time and again, for decades. As for “tax reform”, one of many euphemisms for “tax [theft] increase“: (1) why is it that Obama gets to decide what our “fair share” is? It’s our money. (2) Does he really think that taking more money out of the pockets and bank accounts of the American people will help us recover economically? I doubt it. Finally, with regard to “modest adjustments” in “health care programs”: Repealing Obamacare would be a great start. But Obama knows as well as anyone that the entitlement state is not sustainable in the long (or even the medium) term–even if it was the right thing to do (which it is not). The whole mess, including Social Security (which Obama didn’t even mention) will need to be phased out. “Modest adjustments” won’t even make a dent.

Making these reforms doesn’t require any radical steps.

I would say increasing taxes is a radical step.

What it does require is common sense and compromise.

Again, Obama invokes the magic word, “compromise.” And again, as I discussed in my podcast yesterday, he does not mean the sort of compromise in which we agree on a basic principle (e.g., that A should pay B some money if he wants to acquire ownership of B’s car) and the only concessions to be made are concessions within the context of the acceptance of that principle (in my example, a difference in the purchase price of the car). Rather, in the next paragraph, Obama makes clear what concessions he thinks must be made as part of the “compromise”: one must “put what’s best for the country ahead of self-interest or party or ideology.” Asking a politician to put aside “party”? Fine with me. Asking anyone to put aside his self-interest, assuming we mean one’s long-term rational self-interest? No. Not acceptable. Nor is it acceptable for Obama to call for anyone to set aside his “ideology.” As a Facebook friend of mine wrote earlier today, if we are to set aside our ideology, on what basis should we figure out what is the right action to take? We are human beings, endowed with a consciousness that is volitional and conceptual. We need a code of values to guide our actions. That’s what “ideology” is. So would Obama have our politicians–and everyone else–pretend that they were newborn infants who have learned nothing about the world or human nature? This makes no sense. Unless, of course, he just wants everyone to stop thinking and give him his way.

I realize that after what we just went through, there’s some skepticism that Republicans and Democrats on the so-called super committee, this joint committee that’s been set up, will be able to reach a compromise, but my hope is that Friday’s news will give us a renewed sense of urgency.

I’m sure they will reach some sort of compromise. I think they have to in order to get the further debt limit increases, which I’m sure have already been long spent. What I (and others) are worried about is what the content of that compromise will be. As I said, this deal left all of us with a lot of uncertainty, and with the threat of substantial tax increases besides. As for Obama’s “hope” about a “renewed sense of urgency”, this sounds more to me like a threat. Won’t that threat also “roil[] the markets and dampen[] consumer confidence”?

…the most immediate concern of most Americans, and of concern to the marketplace as well, is the issue of jobs and the slow pace of recovery coming out of the worst recession in our lifetimes.

Obama’s getting ready to throw us a bone so that he can perhaps, against all odds, get reelected next year. Here it comes…

Specifically, we should extend the payroll tax cut as soon as possible, so that workers have more money in their paychecks next year and businesses have more customers next year.

Obama is thinking, “Let’s put more money in their pockets next year, so then I can get reelected before the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2012. Then the joke will be on them.” (Note that Obama, like most politicians in Washington today, would not think in terms of “letting people keep more of their own money.”)

We should continue to make sure that if you’re one of the millions of Americans who’s out there looking for a job, you can get the unemployment insurance that your tax dollars contributed to. That will also put money in people’s pockets and more customers in stores.

Obama is thinking, “the unemployed are probably also more likely to vote for a Democrat.” Oh, and here he is right to use the words “put money in people’s pockets.” He should just add the modifiers “stolen” and/or “unearned.” I would be interested, however, to learn what percentage of those receiving unemployment benefits are simply receiving the equivalent of the taxes they have paid in the past. Anyone have stats?

[I]f Congress fails to extend the payroll tax cut and the unemployment insurance benefits that I’ve called for, it could mean 1 million fewer jobs and half a percent less growth.

Um, isn’t this another threat? Also, I wonder what assumptions are behind the “1 million fewer jobs” estimate. Oh, and how much new debt will result from an increase in “unemployment insurance”? Aren’t we supposed to be rolling back entitlement programs, not extending them? As for the payroll tax cut, of course extend it. I never met a tax cut I didn’t like. But don’t package the tax cut with an increase in an entitlement program.

We should also help companies that want to repair our roads and bridges and airports, so that thousands of construction workers who’ve been without a job for the last few years can get a paycheck again. That will also help to spur economic growth.

Yay, a call for still more spending. Surely that will help our credit rating, and the underlying debt problem.

These aren’t Democratic proposals. These aren’t big government proposals. These are all ideas that traditionally Republicans have agreed to, have agreed to countless times in the past. There’s no reason we shouldn’t act on them now. None.

They are big government proposals (except for the payroll tax cut), and pointing out that Republicans have “traditionally” agreed to them is just another example of verecundiam. Most Republicans are perpetuators of big government programs. Why? Because most Republicans agree with the ethics of altruism that fuels a “big”, redistributive government. Oh, and, for what it’s worth, there are millions of reasons not to act on these proposals (other than that of extending the payroll tax cuts): the millions of American lives that are being mortgaged more and more, each year, by this mounting debt. What I want to know is: What is the reason to enact these proposals? As usual, “need” is the only answer they can give. Again, the ethics of altruism.

I know we’re going through a tough time right now. We’ve been going through a tough time for the last two and a half years. And I know a lot of people are worried about the future. But here’s what I also know: There will always be economic factors that we can’t control –- earthquakes, spikes in oil prices, slowdowns in other parts of the world.

Obama takes no responsibility for any of the “tough time” we’ve been having.

Markets will rise and fall, but this is the United States of America. No matter what some agency may say, we’ve always been and always will be a AAA country. For all of the challenges we face, we continue to have the best universities, some of the most productive workers, the most innovative companies, the most adventurous entrepreneurs on Earth. What sets us apart is that we’ve always not just had the capacity, but also the will to act — the determination to shape our future; the willingness in our democracy to work out our differences in a sensible way and to move forward, not just for this generation but for the next generation.

Wait, did he say that, just because an authority says something, doesn’t mean it’s true? Hmmm. Note also that this is his second invocation of the word “will.” Perhaps he thinks we just aren’t trying hard enough to bring his vision of the ideal world into being? Maybe he thinks if he just gives us a bit of a pep talk, and tells us how great we are, and just tells us to try harder, everything will be fine? He did run on the idea of “hope”, after all. He finishes off this paragraph with a call to sacrifice, a call to “work out our differences in a sensible way”.

And we’re going to need to summon that spirit today. The American people have been through so much over the last few years, dealing with the worst recession, the biggest financial crisis since the 1930s, and they’ve done it with grace. And they’re working so hard to raise their families, and all they ask is that we work just as hard, here in this town, to make their lives a little easier. That’s not too much to ask. And ultimately, the reason I am so hopeful about our future — the reason I have faith in these United States of America — is because of the American people. It’s because of their perseverance, and their courage, and their willingness to shoulder the burdens we face -– together, as one nation.

No, President Obama, I don’t ask the government to make my life easier. I just want government to stop making it harder. I don’t want government to assume I’m willing to–and then force me to–shoulder other people’s burdens, simply because we live in the same country.

One last thing. There is no one who embodies the qualities I mentioned more than the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. And this weekend, we lost 30 of them when their helicopter crashed during a mission in Afghanistan. And their loss is a stark reminder of the risks that our men and women in uniform take every single day on behalf of their county. Day after day, night after night, they carry out missions like this in the face of enemy fire and grave danger. And in this mission –- as in so many others -– they were also joined by Afghan troops, seven of whom lost their lives as well.

Here Obama is appealing to our respect for our military to “inspire” us to be willing to shoulder more “burdens”. And yes, our soldiers take a lot of risks. But much of the risk they face is due to the fact that we are engaged in too many wars of the wrong kind. Why do we care about enabling “a stronger Afghan government”? Aren’t there less risky and less costly ways to ensure “that Afghanistan is not a safe haven for terrorists”? (Those are the reasons Obama cites in the next paragraph.) Again, altruism is to blame.

But now is also a time to reflect on those we lost, and the sacrifices of all who serve, as well as their families. These men and women put their lives on the line for the values that bind us together as a nation. They come from different places, and their backgrounds and beliefs reflect the rich diversity of America.

And what exactly are the values “that bind us together as a nation”? If Obama named them, wouldn’t that constitute an “ideology”?

In the next paragraph we see why Obama specifically mentioned our soldiers’ diversity of “belief”…

But no matter what differences they might have as individuals, they serve this nation as a team. They meet their responsibilities together. And some of them — like the 30 Americans who were lost this weekend –- give their lives for their country. Our responsibility is to ensure that their legacy is an America that reflects their courage, their commitment, and their sense of common purpose.

Obama is implying that, since our soldiers set aside their beliefs to work together, surely we can set aside our “ideologies” in order to help create an America that Obama can be proud of. The only question is, on Obama’s view, how much do we have to sacrifice in order to adequately “reflect” the courage and commitment of those who risk and lose their lives as part of the Armed Forces? Obama’s implication: if some of them give up their very lives, who are you to complain when we want you to endure just a little more financial hardship, just a few more of the burdens of your fellow Americans?

Do you feel the guilt?

A couple more points to make about this final paragraph of Obama’s speech:

First, the implied analogy between serving in the military and legislating does not work. Legislators set policies, which they cannot do in a vacuum, without the benefit and guidance of principles, or ideology. So, whereas I can see asking members of the military, in a certain sense, to set aside their differences in “belief”, for the limited purpose of defeating an enemy or carrying out a mission, legislators must bring their ideas to bear on the task of setting policies. This is especially true now when we need the best ideas possible to get us out of this terrible mess we’re in, and on the road towards establishing a government that serves only its proper functions.

Second, in a proper society, being in the military would not be a sacrifice (remember, to “sacrifice” means to relinquish a higher value for something that is of lesser or no value). In a proper society, we would be engaged only in wars of self-defense, not wars for the sake of a “strong” or “free” or “democratic” ______________(fill name of country in blank). So, members of the military would be signing on only for missions in which our lives and freedom were actually at stake. Moreover, in a proper society, our rules of engagement would not be dictated by so-called “Just War Theory.” This means that we would not consider the lives of enemy civilians to be more important than the lives of our own military, and we would not put our troops at any unnecessary risk. In the words of Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein, we would “do whatever is necessary to destroy the threat [to the United States] and return to normal life, with minimum loss of life and liberty on the part of the citizens of the defending nation.”

Were you surprised at the number of distortions, logical fallacies, and guilt trips contained in today’s speech? I wasn’t. Because altruism is antithetical to human nature, one must distort and evade reality, and resort to intimidation and imposition of guilt, to continue to try to implement it. And it’s especially necessary to resort to these methods whenever one is confronted with evidence that policies based on altruism “don’t work”–i.e., are destructive of human life. Which is what we saw last week, both at home and abroad.

Amy Peikoff, J.D., Ph.D., is a philosopher and lawyer who blogs at dontletitgo.com. She is currently writing a book, "Legalizing Privacy: Why and How," which discusses the value of privacy for the virtuous life and the proper means of protecting it.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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