I listened to the President’s seventh State of the Union message last night with half an ear. I couldn’t muster a great deal of interest in it. If you’re looking for the full text, it’s here.
The most notable aspects of the address were the President’s energetic defense of the present Iraq policy and the situation there and his remarks on earmarks. Otherwise, it seemed to me like the same tired wish list we hear in nearly every SOTU. I doubt that the Congress will be able to focus its collective attention on anything other than reelection for the next year. Controversial items will be avoided, regardless of urgency. Controversial items include immigration reform and entitlements reform. Non-controversial items, obviously, include tax rebates for a broad swath of the American public. That borrowing an extra $160 billion to make these rebates possible is not controversial is a scandal and an outrage.
What is the state of the union today? I actually think it’s pretty strong but lots of Americans are apprehensive about the future. Some of this apprehension is a realistic appraisal of the news of the day. That we’re making fewer and fewer things that people want to buy is, I think, a legitimate concern about the economy. That we’re borrowing so much money, particularly from other countries, is a legitimate concern. That we’ve got more troops stationed overseas than we have in decades is a legitimate concern. That the interventionist foreign policies articulated by all of the first-tier presidential candidates will ensure that continues is a legitimate concern.
That nuclear weapons will spread beyond the countries that currently have them is all but certain, even to non-state actors. That we should be concerned about the effects of the increasing price of oil on our lifestyle is reasonable. I’m not concerned that we might cease to be the sole superpower. Concerns about the future obligations we’ve undertaken as a nation and how we’ll pay for them are reasonable. Concerns about the implications of reneging on those promises are reasonable.
Some of the concerns that people have are exaggerated by journalists, politicians, and busybodies like me, none of whom would have a great deal to say without exaggerating things. For example, I think that the concern that we’ll become a fascist theocracy are highly exaggerated. While I think that concern about climate change and determination to alter our way of living to control our consumption of energy and production of greenhouse gasses is reasonable, I think that the concern about sudden catastrophic climate change are irrational. I think that concerns about the threat posed to us by China are exaggerated.
As I sit here in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, the United States of America in late January, 2008, I think the state of our government (distinct from the state of the union) is lousy. We insist on perpetuating aristocracy regardless of the manifest evidence against it e.g. the governor of our state. A year from now there’s a strong possibility that the wife of a former president will herself be elected president. I consider that an affront to the Republic. I said precisely the same thing about GWB in 2000 so, please, don’t be tedious and complain about some sort of hypocrisy on the subject on my part.
We refuse to tax ourselves today for what our government is spending today. We refuse to deal with the problems of today today. Politicians hold their offices for decades and bequeath them on their deaths to their children, spouses, and other relatives. The only path on which we can be confident of future income is via rent-seeking.
Those are matters for reasonable concern.