Multi-Tasking the 2013 State of the Union

by Dave Schuler on February 13, 2013

I’m going to openly admit that I split my viewing time yesterday evening between watching the second night of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and the 2013 State of the Union message. I watched the judging of the Working Group as the start of the SOTU ran late and after the completion of the Working Group I switched over to watching the SOTU, turning back to the dog show after the president had stopped speaking to watch the judging of the group winners and announcement of the winners.

I correctly called it for the Old English Sheep Dog as Reserve and the Affenpinscher as winner. I just had a feeling. As Chris Matthews might say I just felt this thrill going up my leg.

I felt no comparable thrill in listening to the State of the Union message. I thought it was the same, dreary wish list that recent SOTUs have become. My view of the event is that it should either have much, much more decorum or much, much less. Either it should be a highly formal event, full of pomp and circumstance, with House and Senate members, Democrats and Republicans, members of all caucuses sitting together and applauding politely as the president spoke without either leaping to their feet in uproarious applause or sitting in stony silence (depending on their political party). The president, in turn, should focus on the state of the union rather than the state of the Congress or of the judiciary.

Alternatively, the president, members of Congress, and Supreme Court justices could all throw pies at each other.

The former would be elevating, the latter entertaining.

I certainly don’t think the SOTU should be subtitled “40 Things We’ll Never Hear About Again”, too often what it has been over the last couple of decades.

I found the president’s message riddled with ironies. For example, while decrying tax “loopholes” he called for incentives, presumably a different set of loopholes. How replacing one set of economically inefficient loopholes with a different set of economically inefficient loopholes will spur economic growth is unclear to me and was never really spelled out. I was reminded of Ambrose Bierce’s wisecrack:

A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

Here’s a radical idea: abolish the corporate income tax. That would be efficient both from the standpoint of eliminating deadweight loss but also by allowing businesses to focus on buying, selling, and making things rather than jiggering the tax code to their advantage. Eliminate the other forms of corporate welfare (like farm subsidies, for example) and we’d be getting somewhere.

I was puzzled at the plea to increase the minimum wage as a solution for unemployment. It would certainly improve the incomes of minimum wage workers who managed to hold on to their jobs but at least at the margins it would increase unemployment. The higher we raise the minimum wage, whether at the federal or state level, the more we incentivize a black market in labor, workers who’ll work off the books, frequently illegal immigrants.

Far too many of the president’s proposals were the failed solutions of the past. Electric cars have already flopped. Not only are we nowhere near the millions of them on the road that the president promised would be the case by now but the companies that produce them are easing their way out. “Cap and trade” is another such failed solution of the past. It’s failed both legislatively and pragmatically. Want to reduce carbon in the atmosphere? Impose a carbon tax. Stop subsidizing sprawl.

Who can possibly be in favor of gun violence? The issue we need to discuss is what measures will actually reduce it as opposed to just showing that we care about it. Who is opposed to “in-shoring”?

As Matt Miller noted, “governance is hard”.

Kudos To Dana Milbank for the best wisecrack about the SOTU, held, propitiously, on the evening of Mardi Gras:

There is, thankfully, less nudity in the House chamber for the president’s annual address, and (slightly) less inebriation [than at the festivities in New Orleans].

I’m actually not so sure about the latter. Did he subject the members of the House and Senate to breathalyzer tests? We might want to amend the constitution in that direction.

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