Of course it would be great if he could end the wars, stop the waste, balance the budget, save health care and education, make us energy independent, save the American automobile industry, keep Social Security solvent, create a job for everybody who wants one, and make sure nobody loses a home to foreclosure. But a little voice inside me says even a President who walks on water can’t do all that. It was a lot of that good ol’ “Yes we can” spirit that the nation really needs to hear, but much of it was splattering against the wall of political reality.
First I should say I automatically discount any political promise by at least 50% and take the remainder with a heaping amount of skepticism. Last night’s speech was laden with pie in the sky, like a campaign speech, with scant detail on how it would be accomplished.
Take, for example, the federal deficit. Obama promised to cut it in half by the end of his first term. The day before, he had promised he would cut in half “the deficit we inherited.” Big difference, since the part we inherited wouldn’t include all the new stimulus spending, but it’s a ton of money either way. How do you reduce debt while at the same time spending even more than before? Beats me.
The promises on education were encouraging. Wouldn’t it be great if every child in America got at least a high school education? Well, the truth is, you can build all those schools and hire all those teachers and set all those standards but you can’t make the students show up and learn. There has to be a certain mindset engendered and fostered at home, and the government has no control over that.
Energy independence? Certainly a worthwhile goal, but in an increasingly global economy, is it achievable or even desirable? The same could be said of the promise to stop giving tax breaks to companies that send American jobs overseas. You can stop the tax breaks, but business today is increasingly global, and for any business the bottom line will always be the bottom line.
Jobs. We can certainly parse words when it comes to jobs, can’t we? The President promised to “create or save” some millions of jobs. “Create” would be to make a job where none existed before. That would entail a company hiring more workers, or an entirely new business being established. Either would cost money. “Save,” on the other hand, is meaningless. Save means the job already exists and you’re just going to make sure the worker doesn’t get laid off. If we achieved financial stasis today, I could claim to have saved 600 million jobs, or however many there are in America right now, but I won’t have done a thing or spent a dime.
And health care. This one worries me a lot. Like most people who currently have health care coverage, I don’t want anyone rocking my boat. But the President is promising to fix health care and cut costs, while at the same time extending coverage to everyone. How do you do that? Are you going to reduce my coverage so you can give some of it to someone else? Are you going to make me wait longer for my surgery while you treat someone else’s flu? Are you going to nationalize all the businesses and institutions that provide health care, equipment, pharmaceuticals, and personnel to the health care industry? Are you going to cap the amount spent on research and development or limit access to the most expensive life-saving procedures? Or in the most Draconian scenario, are you going to limit seniors’ access to certain drugs and procedures because they’re getting too old for their treatment to be cost-effective in the years you think they have left? Health care is a business, after all, so there is and will be profit-taking. I don’t know how you get a handle on the problem without screwing things up for the patients and their doctors, who are, after all, the entire industry’s raison d’etre.
Overall, last night’s speech, like much the President has been saying recently, sounded like a menu of what he hopes to achieve during his entire time in office. Long-term stuff. That’s all well and good, but we’ve heard most of it before. What I really hoped to hear was exactly what’s being done now and in the next few months to stabilize our economy and ensure that we don’t continue to plunge toward the financial abyss. But then, it wasn’t meant to be a gloom-and-doom speech; it was a yes-we-can speech. And yes, I do believe America can, sooner or later.