President Obama began his speech to Congress by saying: “The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy.”
In other words, “You oppose me because you are playing politics; when I oppose you, it’s something entirely different, something neither political nor ideological—my love and compassion for those of you unfortunate enough not to be me.”
By the way, the clowns in the circus (a.k.a., Democratic Congressmen) loved it and gave him a big hand.
But we let Democrats run the circus for 2 years, when they had full control of Congress and the Presidency. The American people didn’t like the results. In 2010 the people voted for one thing: obstruct Democrats’ plans. Don’t let them have their way. Be a roadblock. So which is “playing politics” or being “rigidly ideological”: acceding to the election results or trying to defy them?
Nothing is more dogmatically ideological than branding as your opponents as “ideologues.” Ideology is inescapable. Everyone has an ideology—i.e., a set of abstract principles regarding how the world works and what is right. Some ideologies are true, some are false. But that’s not how second-handers see things. They feel, “I merely report the self-evident; those other guys are denying the self-evident; they must be in the grip of some prejudice to be so blind to what’s self-evident.” By “self-evident” they means: “printed right there in Paul Krugman’s column.”
A quite innocent case of the same unreflective, insular subjectivism is the near universal belief: “*I* have no accent; it’s people from *other* regions who speak with an accent; I just pronounce words plain.” In fact, to most Americans, it comes as a shock to hear that there is “an American accent.” How is that possible, we wonder? Next they’ll be telling us that cheeseburgers and milkshakes are not “regular food” but some “American cuisine,” or that it isn’t “football” but “American football.” Isn’t football just football??
As with forms of pronunciation, so with ideology. A blindness to the operation of one’s own ideology shows that one is not aware of how one acquired one’s beliefs. Often that’s because one never *reached* any conclusions, never thought things through, but just chanted what others around him were chanting.
That’s what explains how Obama can believe that Keynesianism is self-evident, that it requires no theory and no thought to see that government spending creates jobs. That’s just common sense, the party-line chanter feels.
Of course, there’s not just subjectivism and conformity behind Obama raising the hue and cry “ideologue! partisanship! playing politics!”—it’s *motivated*. It’s a device for making it impossible to raise principled objections to the leftist ideology. It turns out that there is no leftism, there’s only “regular beliefs” vs. those garbled by the “accent” of right-wing dogmas.
Those who fall for that line are blind to their own premises, their own ideology, which they have never recognized or critically analyzed.
That was just Obama’s opening. I now turn to the rest of his speech, where he said he was sending to Congress a bill, almost wholly unspecified, to “jolt” the economy (which I’m sure it will). Congress should pass it “right away” he demanded—i.e., without discussion, inspection, argument, premise-checking.
There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans. . . . more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for the long-term unemployed.
Nothing controversial there. Unless you are an ideologue.
He offers tax cuts. But it’s spending that matters, and he “noncontroversially” wants to *increase* spending. (The Wall Street Journal, in a Friday editorial, refutes his claim that the tax cuts would be “paid for.”)
You could eliminate every tax there is and finance even greater spending, by inflating. Inflation does not create jobs or any form of wealth. Inflation is wealth-destroying, because it coercively transfers wealth between people and distorts the whole structure of the economy.
Obama, like 99.9% of politicians, pushed the centuries-old, totally discredited doctrine of mercantilism. Mercantilism is the moronic idea that it is better to export than to import. That is economically impossible, as even left-leaning economists recognize. Imports are paid for by exports (or by investment). There can no more be a policy that favors exports over imports than a policy that favors buying over selling. Every sale is a purchase, and every purchase is a sale. As Say stated, goods pay for goods. Anything else is in the realm of gifts, not business. Yet, Obama said:
If Americans can buy Kias and Hundais, I want to see folks in South Korea driving Fords and Chevies and Chryslers. I want to see more products sold around the world stamped with the three proud words: “Made in America.” That’s what we need to get done.
No, it isn’t. If it were, we could become prosperous by just giving away products made in America. What we need to get done is production, to be traded abroad for foreign production. And to do that, we need to cut spending and de-control.
I pass over more economic nonsense that he emitted, to get to this rather amazingly section, which totally contradicts his opening:
I realize that some of you have a different theory on how to grow the economy. Some of you sincerely believe that the only solution to our economic challenges is to simply cut most government spending and eliminate most government regulations. [This got big applause from the Republicans.]
Then he stated that he has pledged to “root out” spending and regulations that could be cut:
We should have no more regulation than the health, safety, and security of the American people require. Every rule should meet that common-sense test. But [you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?] what we can’t do, what I will not do, is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades. I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety. I reject the argument that says for the economy to grow, we have to roll back the protections that ban hidden fees by credit card companies, or rules that protect our kids from being exposed to mercury, or laws that prevent the health insurance industry from shortchanging patients. I reject the idea that we have to strip away collective bargaining rights to compete in a global economy [big cheers and standing ovation from Democrats].
In other words, “I would eliminate any spending and regulation that is bad, but all of it is good.”
Then he gets philosophical:
In fact, this larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, just refund everybody’s money [!], and let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they are on their own—that’s not who we are. [What do you mean “we”? That’s who George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the rest of the Founders were.] That’s not the story of America. [Yes, it is *exactly* the story of America.]
Yes, we are rugged individualists [!]. Yes, we are strong and self-reliant. And it has been the drive and initiative of our workers and entrepreneurs that has made this economy the engine and the envy of the world. But [you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?] there has always been another thread running through our history. [“Thread” or “threat”?] A belief that we’re all connected [chained together]. And that there are some things that we can only do together, as a nation. . . .
Ask yourselves: where would be right now if the people who sat here before us decided not to build our highways, not to build our bridges, our dams, our airports? What would our country be like if we [the government] had chosen not to spend [your] money on public high schools, or research universities, or community colleges?
Okay, I’ll field that one: we’d be in utopia. His idea is that if government didn’t use its police power to coercively supply things, they wouldn’t be supplied. He might as well say that without government running shoe factories, we’d all be barefoot.
What kind of country would this be if this chamber had voted down Social Security or Medicare just because it violated some rigid idea of what government could or could not do?
Answer: A richer, happier, and healthier country.
Then we get the ultimate refutation of individualism: “No single individual built America on their own.” Yes, that’s what individualism implies all right. “We built it together.” Really? The corner beggar and Thomas Edison worked together to build America? I hadn’t known that.
“[We have] responsibilities to ourselves and responsibilities to one another.” Careful, Barack, you are retreating; it was the pre-Kantian thinkers who said selfishness has its place, along with unselfishness. Not that that was a good thing, but it’s unusual for any Democrat to give ground to egoism.
That was pretty much the end of the speech. So it comes down to: let’s have another jobs program, laced with tax cuts. His concrete proposal seems to be: more of the same. We need to see what his proposal actually is, but I’m reasonably sure it is simply: more spending.
The good news is that intellectually and philosophically the President was very much on the defensive. In effect, he was saying: “Don’t listen to those who would jettison altruism and collectivism.” It’s wonderful that he feels the need to say that—and revealing that he had no answer to it other than: “That’s not who we are.” If the “we” is Congressmen, he’s right. But if it means the American voters, let’s hope he’s wrong.