President Barack Obama’s inaugural address sounded pragmatic notes, calling for a vision wherein what mattered was whether government “worked,” not whether it was “too big or too small.” It sounded so Reaganesque that even Patrick Buchanan felt compelled to comment on it in a piece titled “Obama’s Reaganesque speech.” And when Pat Buchanan, known affectionately among his former Nixon White House speechwriters as “Pitchfork Pat,” calls a Democrat’s speech “Reaganesque,” you know that the only thing missing was an obligatory announcement of the speaker’s intentions to simultaneously bomb Cuba and withdraw from the UN while singing the National Anthem and dancing on the grave of Margaret Sanger.
Now, Obama’s speech was praiseworthy in many respects, but as Frank Zappa dismissively remarked upon being confronted by social conservative complaints about rock lyrics, “the whole thing is words, words, words!” Unfortunately, in Obama’s case, it is far too easy to confuse his words with the substance of his ideas, and some of those – including his admission to Republican leaders that he thinks the New Deal was a failure because Roosevelt didn’t spend enough money – are truly alarming. Clearly, for Obama the question of whether Government works is whether it accomplishes preconceived liberal objectives, and if individual rights need to be left on the ash heap, so be it.
Well, alright, one might say. Drastic times call for drastic measures and hey, at least the trains will run on time (not something to scoff at for anyone who’s taken the trains from Hartford). If Obama has to do a few politically unpleasant things to fix the economy/restore our standing in the world/single-handedly stop the Care meter in Care Bear land from hitting zero, then so be it, this line of argument runs.
But even if one conceded that desperate times really did produce the necessity of political viciousness, the idea that Obama believes in ruthless political maneuvering as a last resort was permanently refuted when his stimulus bill was released. Despite the modest attempt at selling the bill as a necessary bit of public infrastructure boosting and economic stimulus to which not even Adam Smith would object, the stark reality of the text was so alarming that even Clinton Economic Advisor Alice Rivlin suggested that it ought to be split up into smaller pieces and passed separately.
The reasons for the bill being a gigantic political mistake are numerous, but a few are worth suggesting. Firstly, despite its infrastructure-based face, the bill actually allocated a scant $50 billion to public infrastructure projects, which suggests that despite the aggressive “hope-n-change” rhetoric that’s been coasting around President Obama, the same style of intellectually dishonest marketing is still very much in style. This alone should have been enough to cause raised eyebrows, and the fact that a few old Democratic economic hands are showing caution on pushing the bill shows that if not this, then something, did cause caution.
But if the minuscule allocation of funds to public infrastructure was dubious, then the rest of the bill was downright alarming. In fact, while reading it, I found myself hearing John McCain’s lame-sounding promise to “veto all earmarks” echo over and over in my head, as if to remind me of just how much we’re missing just by rejecting someone with that simple idea. Say what you like about Sarah Palin’s “Bridge to Nowhere”, but if $600 million for (of all things) new cars, $650 million for television subscriptions, $6 billion for college/university funding, $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and $44 million for the Department of Agriculture don’t sound like abusive, pork-laden earmarks, then nothing should.
But, of course, I can already hear the sharp-tongued Wespeaks flying off the presses, probably bearing level-headed titles like “Why does Mytheos Holt hate artists,” or “Hey Holt, farmers are people too,” or “If you don’t like college/university funding, why do you go to college, Holt,” or “Your writing sucks, you’re ugly and you should drop out of Wesleyan.” Whoops, shouldn’t have mentioned that last one. It’s bad taste to air private correspondence in one’s newspaper column. At any rate, let me pre-empt all of these objections by saying that, aside from my general libertarian objections to Government sticking its ugly fingers into any section of the private market, I have no particular reason why the NEA, the Department of Agriculture, or any other federally funded institution should not receive federal funds, assuming it’s a foregone conclusion that the American peoples’ money is going to be stolen for the sake of financing subjectively-assessed “worthy causes.”
But, and this is a big “but,” there are multiple objections to spending money on these “worthy causes” at a time when our deficit is already dancing on the edge of the inflationary abyss, not least of all the fact that the deficit is dancing on the edge of said abyss in the first place. Bush may have put America in this situation, but allocating blame to him will not solve the fact that the deficit is too high to waste money needlessly on progressive special interests. The sooner Barack Obama comes to term with this fact, the sooner economic recovery will begin in earnest.