January 26 2011

IWF in the News: SOTU: Pulling the Wool Over Their Eyes

Sabrina Schaeffer

Last night's State of the Union was largely uninspired. But what I disliked most was that it was disingenuous. The president has a wonderful way of portraying himself as a free marketer while championing more top-down, big-government spending projects - or, "investments," as we're calling them now - in transportation, infrastructure and education.

The president repeatedly tried to pull the wool over the American people's eyes. Although, outside of the Washington beltway, I suspect people saw right through his dishonesty.

There were four moments, in particular, where I felt my blood begin to boil:

1) Just minutes into the speech, the president began to talk about innovation. "The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can't just stand still." Hmmm ... I'm not really sure what to make of that line, other than it's just bad writing. Still, he used it as a transition to talk about American innovation, and this is where he really lost me. "None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from." Nevertheless, he followed this up immediately with a huge push for more investment in clean energy. I don't follow.

2) President Obama called for a five-year freeze in discretionary spending. This was almost laughable, if our deficit crisis wasn't so serious. Last year, many will remember, the president announced, "We are prepared to freeze government spending for three years" - although Congress never voted on that measure. Both proposed freezes refer to discretionary spending - a tiny sliver of the federal budget - and would do nothing to limit the fastest growing part of the budget: entitlement spending. Nor, of course, would the proposed freeze cover any of the massive spending still being doled out from "the stimulus," or from the new healthcare law.

3) And then came the "Sputnik" moment. As a former speechwriter, I couldn't think of a more unoriginal comparison. Every politician has used this metaphor - I had to use this metaphor - and it's lost a lot of its luster in its overuse. More significant, however, is what Sputnik represented - a massive new government spending initiative. As far as I recall, the space exploration program was a government venture. Is that really the metaphor you wanted to use, Mr. President?

4) Then Obama called for more investment in education and explained how "In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders.'" But he left out a major piece of the puzzle, which is that in South Korea they have a market in education, which allows teachers to be compensated for their performance. Perhaps they should allow for questions during the SOTU, so someone could have asked why President Obama (with the help of Democrats like Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in Congress) squashed the DC Opportunity Scholarship program, despite positive results in academic achievement and higher graduation rates.

I think Bret Stephens hit the nail on the head yesterday in his column in The Wall Street Journal. What we're really missing in Washington today is not more civility; rather, we're missing an honest conversation. I would have much preferred to hear a Keith Olbermann-style diatribe on what Obama really thinks of free-market policies than another feigned attempt at appeasing all Americans.

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