As evidenced by the State of the Union address last night, Obama has chosen to respond to falling poll numbers and rising anger among the electorate by taking the safe route and morphing into yet another caretaker president. Aside from waxing eloquent in his opening and closing remarks about the historic challenges we face, he sounded exactly like George Bush and every president preceding him for the past two generations, offering a littany of tax cuts and credits to get the economy moving in the right direction, while closing with vows to reduce the budget deficit.
“Change we can believe in” is dead. There were still echoes of the campaign trail when he spoke of eliminating tax breaks for companies who outsource jobs, enforcing trade deals, health care reform, green jobs and an energy policy, but there was no conviction in his voice and everyone watching knew that it was merely nostalgic rhetoric. The efficacy of the speech was best summed up in one moment when, after speaking at length about fiscal restraint and reining in the budget deficit, he concluded with “but that will have to wait till next year,” deservedly drawing loud guffaws from the Republican side of the room.
Most disappointing of all was his comments on trade. Contrary to his campaign promise to stand firm against any more free trade deals that have devastated our manufacturing sector, he now supports conclusion of the Doha round of World Trade Organization talks, with its agenda of opening another artery in America’s economy upon which more parasitic economies will feed. And his vow to double exports by opening new markets is nothing more than a retreat into the same dumb trade policy that has amassed a trade deficit of ten trillion dollars while simultaneously dismantling our manufacturing sector over the past three decades. We’ll “open new markets.” Right. That means opening our market first, in return for markets so badly stunted by low per capita consumption that an even bigger trade deficit is the only possible outcome. This part of the speech was a slap in the face to every voter, like me, who put faith in Obama’s promises to reduce the trade deficit and bring manufacturing jobs home.
The practitioners of old-school, 18th century economics have won the day again. A few more tax breaks here. Sprinkle in some token cost cuts there. Pump up the economy with immigration and population growth. Drill, baby, drill. “Spin, baby, spin.” (The unspoken platitude to the green crowd.) Boost exports. Pay no mind to those nuisance imports. Crank up the printing press at the mint. Don’t rock the boat. Everything will be fine. This is our future. We now have another caretaker to see to it.
Just one problem. This isn’t the middle of the 20th century. Those approaches have culminated in economic ruin. Continue on this path and you can take one of two outcomes to the bank: far worse unemployment or a $20 trillion national debt in ten years that collapses our economy, perhaps forever. Obama has chosen the well-worn path and crossed his fingers in the hope that it doesn’t happen on his watch.