Tonight President Obama plans a speech in which he will outline his plan to reduce our debt and to return the nation to fiscal responsibility. It is as important a speech, and as important a set of policies, as we will have seen from this President. I have been clear in my posts that our national debt and excessive government spending is the number 1 threat to American leadership, longevity, and even to our existence as a nation.
We can only hope that the President’s plan is a sober, realistic one that checks his political interests at the door. Said another way, it is my hope that we see tonight the characteristic the President made millions of Americans believe he had: An “America first, post-partisan” strategy.
The temptation to play political games will be immense. While he must talk about cutting spending in some fashion, he could also refer to millions of seniors who will no longer receive medical care, children who will be abused or go uneducated, teen-aged girls who will have back-alley abortions, and commitments to veterans that will go unmet. He could lambaste the “rich”, talk about greed, and vilify entire industries.
The Democrats succumbed to these temptations so many times in the past, as occasionally have Republicans. You see, it’s easy to talk about all the things that need doing, all the people who need help, about the many problems that need to be solved. The issue is, however, that we could double the current size of the government and our entitlement programs and a politician would still be able to refer to additional people who need help, other areas money could be spent, and problems that need to be solved.
There is no “enough”. Government is like a gluttonous wild beast, it will eat whatever you give it, and if you give it more it will eat that too. There is no being “full”. It’s stomach is a bottomless pit. We have been feeding this beast excessively for more than 20 years, and finding the point where we have fed it enough is extremely difficult. We do know, however, that feeding it an excess of $4.5 billion per day (this is how much we deficit-spend, or borrow, for each day of operation beyond tax receipts) above and beyond what we can afford is not the answer.
Tonight, we need President Obama to level with the American people, and we need the American people to listen like adults, like Americans. We need both the President and the people to put their own personal transient interests aside and face the fact that our government is too big, it spends too much, and that while it may feel good to keep spending as we do in the short run, in the long run it will be a disaster for our country. We will enjoy the Summer as a grasshopper, but when Winter comes we will starve to death.
The President MUST rely on this principle and communicate it to the American people. Over the next two years we MUST reform medicare, medicaid, social security, defense spending, farm subsidies, unemployment, and our broken tax code.
Again the temptation to demagogue will be great. He could take a general approach that says “Republicans want to line the pockets of their Wall Street friends with the money that would have gone to a grandmother in need of a wheelchair”. This is what they did during the recent budget negotiations, and it’s what they did in spades when President Bush rightly tried to reform social security 5 or so years ago. The Democrats “won” that social security battle, just as President Obama could “win” this battle by not reforming the programs I mentioned. But the costs, oh the costs, to Americans in the future could be insurmountable. For example, surely the failure to reform social security under President Bush, even if we reform it today, has cost us trillions of dollars (think of it like contributing $200 a month to a 401k plan starting at age 22, or doing so starting at age 40. The cumulative loss of the compounded interest is in relative terms gigantic). And he lost that battle for one reason and one reason only: the politics of a self-interested Democrat party that put the welfare of America second.
In fact, the social security reform battle with President Bush provides a shining example of what cannot happen here. President Bush’s efforts on social security were brave and rife with politic risk. He was right, but he knew that if his arguments were twisted it could be extremely damaging for him politically. But he hoped that enough Democrats, knowing how high the stakes were for the American people, would join him in reform. He hoped wrong. The Democrats seized the issue and went on the warpath, falsely talking about seniors losing their social security, stating outright that President Bush and the Republicans wanted to eliminate the entire program. Seniors everywhere, millions of them whose only income comes from social security, were panicked. How would they live? How could President Bush do such a thing? President Obama must not let himself use the approach his Democrat friends did under President Bush.
So the President could focus on tax increases and not on the huge spending reductions that are needed. He can say that Paul Ryan and his own Deficit Commission have plans that will result in the deaths of thousands of poor and elderly Americans (see Nancy Pelosi transcripts from the last 60 days, and from the period in which President Bush proposed reforming social security). He can talk about the greedy rich, and he can put forth budgets and financial analysis that show deficit and spending reductions when in fact the opposite is taking place (see his 10 year budget from 3 months ago, or the nearly comical financial impact statement he issued on the healthcare bill).
It all comes down to this word that I continue to use, but that I never get to see from President Obama. Leadership. We need him to lead us in a direction 180 degrees from the direction we are currently headed. He needs to say we spend too much. He needs to say we can’t spend money we don’t have anymore. He needs to emphasize that the vast majority of government spending comes from the areas I described above. Will he play politics, or will he lead?
If you are under age 35 and reading this blog, I promise you your future hangs in the balance.