Government Spending

The Sorry State of Our Union

Forget the "Sputnik moment," let's have a "Carter moment"


State of the Union speeches generate much buzz amongst the Washington press corps, most of whom won't remember its contents in three months, and little from the American public, most of whom understand that politicians excel at reading empty, contradictory, and frequently baffling promises from a teleprompter. All of this talk about our bright future, our glorious past, and our terrifying present, is leavened with treacly human interest stories describing ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things; it's the political equivalent of the NBC Olympic broadcast.

But for Democratic presidents, the State of the Union serves another very specific purpose: to further alienate the perennially alienated left wing of the party by expressing fealty—with a number of important and incoherent caveats—to the free market.

For instance, here is President Jimmy Carter in 1978, addressing the problem of stagflation: "[W]e know that in our free society, private business is still the best source of new jobs." And if those Yippies and Vietcongniks didn't quite follow him, Carter continued: "We need patience and good will, but we really need to realize that there is a limit to the role and the function of government." Years later, reflecting on the economic mess of the late 1970s, Carter blasted his fellow big government Democrats, complaining that "all they knew about [economics] was stimulus and Great Society programs." Sound familiar?

It's often remembered that in his first State of the Union, Bill Clinton promised that his administration "will offer a plan to end welfare as we know it." He underscored the point again in his 1994 State of the Union, explaining that his policies would reward "work over welfare." And again in 1995: "So let this be the year we end welfare as we know it. But also let this be the year that we are all able to stop using this issue to divide America. No one is more eager to end welfare." In case he hadn't estranged all of his former supporters on the left, Clinton reminded his audience in his 1996 address that "For too long our welfare system has undermined the values of family and work instead of supporting them."

And President Barack Obama, in his latest plodding, platitudinous State of the Union speech, made sure to declare that "Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation" and that corporate taxes needed to be cut in order to compete with countries like Sweden, a social democratic state with a tax rate 15 percent lower than the United States. Now to be sure, following his uninspired celebration of the free market Obama immediately added a big, juicy, and disingenous caveat. While the market is the best way to organize an economy, he explained, it's the job of Washington to facilitate innovation, as it does so well, and as it did in the case of the Internet. (I haven't the time or space, alas, to grapple with that whopper.)

Because now, Obama says, is our "Sputnik moment," when, one presumes, a totalitarian regime is threatening to overtake the United States in development of vital military and communications technologies. Perhaps the Sputnik reference shouldn't be taken so literally, but it should certainly raise the antennae of limited government types. In 1999, academic John Aubrey Douglass noted that the Sputnik panic joined ideological opposites in creating a we-must-spend-more-on-education panic: "Supporters of a stronger federal role in education united with critics of America's schools systems, running roughshod over the long-standing reluctance to expand the influence of Washington in policy areas traditionally reserved to the states." It was because of Soviet centralism in technological development and education that Sputnik was beeping and flashing in the atmosphere, ensuring that Western capitalism, in the phrase of the ruddy-faced First Secretary, would be "buried" within a decade.

And sure enough, Obama's Sputnik line was followed by promises to lard all future budgets with programs that ensure the American economy is more Khruschevian (a joke, not an endorsement of Glenn Beck!), with promises of government expansion of "biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology—an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people." One imagines that François Mitterrand announced the Minitel with similar enthusiasm. (And while we're talking ARPANET, Sputnik, and the Minitel, why not revisit Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey's terrific deconstruction of those technological innovations developed by the United States government.)

This seemed the general theme of the evening; occasional head fakes towards classical liberalism, only to sprint back towards to modern American liberalism. For instance, "to help pay for" the promised technological innovation in the energy sector, Obama promised to "[ask] Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies," a wonderful sentiment soon neutralized by a further promise to subsidize other energy industries and different corporations. And protectionists be damned, Obama then informed America that he pushed through a free trade agreement with South Korea, while failing to mention that his administration significantly watered down the deal and ignored those unsigned trade agreements with Panama and Colombia, both vigorously opposed by his labor union allies.

So the State of the Union, in this time when the country, we are constantly told, must "work together" (and sit together in a pointless show of "unity"), had the twin effect of irritating liberals and confounding non-liberals. Following the speech, MSNBC's smiling lefty Rachel Maddow blubbered that the president offered a "prayer to the free market." Taking a break from calling Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) a "balloon head," Chris Matthews reminded free-market types that "Franklin Delano Roosevelt bailed out capitalism in the '30s. He saved it from God knows what." Canadian Bacon director Michael Moore tweeted that the "bottom line" is that Obama is "not a progressive." Not to be outdone by his ideological opposites, Georgia Republican Rep. Paul Broun, in a 140 character blast of stupid, tweeted that the president doesn't "believe in the Constitution. [He] believe[s] in socialism."

But while the fringe left attacked positive mentions of the free market, and while pork-loving Democrats, like Sen. Harry Reid (Nev.) and Keith Ellison (DFL-Minn.), complained that states would lose valuable projects in an earmark ban, many liberals were pleased with the president's performance. The top three stories on The New Republic's website capture the enthusiasm: "Why the State of the Union May Have Been Obama's Best Speech"; "How Obama's Address Set a Cunning Trap for His Enemies"; and "Is Obama Finally Transforming Himself Into the President He's Always Wanted to Be?" A little further down, Jonathan Chait blasts Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) "hyper-ideological rebuttal speech," which was more about winning converts to Friedrich Hayek than winning the future.

And while Ryan might not yet be presidential timber (as a journalist friend emailed last night, Ryan may be smart but he is still too Howdy Doody for the White House), his response speech was appropriately brief and underlined a point that constantly needs underlining: The United States is broke, and more spending is only going to make us more broke. This might not count as a "Sputnik moment," but let us hope that President Obama soon has a "Carter moment" and realizes that economies cannot sustain more stimulus and the expansion of "Great Society programs."

Michael C. Moynihan is a senior editor of Reason magazine.

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  1. Let me say this: The era of big government is over!

    1. “Let me say this about that.”

  2. it’s the job of Washington to facilitate innovation, as it does so well, and as it did in the case of the Internet. (I haven’t the time or space, alas, to grapple with that whopper.)

    It is ok that Moynihan does not want to grapple that whopper right now….but it would be nice if someone at Reason did before the next year is out.

    1. No need! We checked it out, and found it was like totally true! It’s our new “Unlie of the Year!”

    2. Here’s a start, joshua: SGML, the precursor to HTML, was developed at IBM, not the DOD.

    3. “It is ok that Moynihan does not want to grapple that whopper right now….but it would be nice if someone at Reason did before the next year is out.”

      OK, so the gov’t set up a series of comm nodes to avoid failure in event of attack. And said ‘isn’t that nice’.
      And the market came along and said ‘Look what those bozos left there! This is amazing and they have no idea what they’ve done! We can make this into all sorts of things!’
      Got it, Joshua?

      1. Got it, Joshua?

        I want validation of my own beliefs from a professional libertarian journalist!!!

        You scum bags don’t count….

        ….although Bakedpenguin’s point and link was pretty informative.

  3. And the era of giant, humungous, enormous, butt-molesting government is here!

  4. Georgia Republican Rep. Paul Broun, in a 140 character blast of stupid, tweeted that the president doesn’t “believe in the Constitution. [He] believe[s] in socialism.”

    ‘Cause smart guys like Moynihan know Obama is a Constitutionalist who thinks socialism is an evil failed ideology.

    1. The free market is great! Only it’s too free. Only by making it less free can we free its full potential.

  5. Georgia Republican Rep. Paul Broun, in a 140 character blast of stupid, tweeted that the president doesn’t “believe in the Constitution. [He] believe[s] in socialism.”

    In 140 characters or less compare and contrast what Moynihan considers “modern American liberalism” with what Paul Broun thinks is “socialism”

    10$ says they are the same thing and anther 10$ says they both think they OWN their respective definitions.

    To be honest i am fucking sick of this shit…

    Moynhan write an essay of what you think socialism, and communism and modern American liberalism are. We may all agree we may totally disagree….but at least I would be able to understand what you are thinking.

    Tell me what the definition of “is” is!!!

    1. Paul Broun is a fucking idiot who wants to ban Playboy on military bases.

      He is the same type of Bircher fuckwad who called Eisenhower a “communist”.

      Actually – I think a lot of the reason goofball commenters are. Maybe J. Edgar Hoover should check this pasty squad of geeks out as co-crossdressers.

      1. shrike|1.26.11 @ 7:44PM|#
        Thanks, fuckwad.

  6. Congrats Moynihan the first annual RandyAyndy Awards

    for your Sexist pig/psycic remark for: 10:53 Michael Moynihan: If hating Michelle Bachmann is sexist, then I’m Bobby Riggs

    1. I actually responded to that in the live chat:

      “She (Bachmann) is a very attractive man…If i was Tony i would totally sleep with him”

      Or something to that effect.

      Sadly our comments did not show up on the screen. But I suspect the Reason staff could read them.

      1. Joshua, I totally agree; It was disappointing that our replies were hidden. I don’t think the writers get that posters come for the H&R comments first, and the articles secondarily.

        1. I don’t think the writers get that posters come for the H&R comments first, and the articles secondarily.
          reply to this


          I come here for the articles….

          …but i stay for the pr0n.

          1. Being a narcissist, it’s seeing your own name and commentary on the screen that really matters. Isn’t that correct?

            1. The majority of commenters are using pseudonyms. How does your theory apply to an anonymous poster?

    2. 9:32 Radley Balko:Why are you pouring good whiskey into coke?

      This is such bullshit.

      Coke is an awesome drink and even better for mixing…the only reason it is given shit is because they figured out how to make it cheap.

      In fact it has been my experience that Coke masks the shit taste of alcohol yet accentuates the actual taste of the whiskey.

      If you like the taste of alcohol then fucking drink straight gin, and quit wasting the whiskey in the first place.

      Good whiskey should be honored to be in the same glass as Coke.

      1. “shit taste of alcohol?” – now I know you suck on Gingrich’s tiny meat blip.

        Scotch is the only proof God exists – although its easily discounted as we scotch drinkers see god in the least of our existence – not the “best”.

        1. The Irish don’t get any love, ya bastard?

        2. now I know you suck on Gingrich’s tiny meat blip.

          Shrike, your personal fantasies are none of our business.

        3. “shit taste of alcohol?” – now I know you suck on Gingrich’s tiny meat blip.

          Yeah cuz not liking the taste of poison burning is a sure way to identify a gay conservative.

          And the only reason why scotch exists is because pure alcohol is terrible thing to drink.

          Mixed drinks and specifically coke is simply the natural evolution of that same concept.

          To deny that makes you a Luddite or a masochist or both.

      2. Have to disagree.

        A good glass of Coke is terrific.
        A fine bourbon is a blessing.

        Mixing the two is a waste of each. The Coke overpowers any particular nuance in the bourbon with, well, cola. On the other hand, a glass of Coke can make a wonderful mixer for a mediocre bourbon.

  7. Carter…still stupid after all these years!

    1. yeah? Did he lie us into a losing war?

      Did he begin a new entitlement program? Did he bankrupt the country? Did he exacerbate a financial panic?

      Since I know you are an idiot – the answers are all NO – Bushy Boy did them all.

      1. “yeah? Did he lie us into a losing war?”

        You are referring to Kennedy (D) and Vietnam. No?

      2. And since I know shrike is an idiot – the answer to who spends the money is the democrat controlled legislature since 2006.

        1. Stupid Fuck you are.

          Congress 07-08 didn’t spend anything Bush/Paulson didn’t go beg Pelosi for – namely TARP.

          I am smarter than you are – you fuckpig.

          1. shrike|1.26.11 @ 10:33PM|#
            “I am smarter than you are – you fuckpig.”

            Goat-ass-sucking prick, there may be something dumber than you, but science hasn’t found a one-cell animal that dumb yet.

          2. SHreik you mindless robot, I have a question for you:

            Would your Obama escalate a war or start a new war to get reelected? Yes or No.

            Given his unwavering devotion to his “agenda”, the answer is obvious.

      3. Did he lie us into a losing war?

        What was the purpose for the surge in Afghanistan again?

        Did he begin a new entitlement program?

        Extending SCHIP to 26-year-olds isn’t an entitlement program?

        Did he bankrupt the country?

        He certainly hasn’t pull us into solvency, in case that $1.7 trillion deficit from last year escaped your attention.

        Did he exacerbate a financial panic?

        Yeah, Obama’s big feat is that “the stock market has come roaring back” and “corporate profits are up.” Never mind the 9.4% U3, the 16.7% U6, the employment rate of the population has been doing a double dip since last summer, the fact that revolving credit has been in the negative for the last two years, nor the fact that the job growth not only hasn’t been enough to make up for the jobs lost, it can’t even keep up with population growth.

        But yeah, at least he didn’t exacerbate it, right?

        1. All great points, but the point of contention was Carter, not BHO.

          1. Ehh, I figured if shrike could play the non-sequiter game with Bush, I might as well join in with Obama.

            1. No, Carter did little harm and no legislation except for the Superfund and Dereg – basically a libertarian.

              Sure, the Dept of Education split from the old H.E.W. – who cares? It existed anyway.

              Carter was a placeholder – he did none of the damage Bush the Lesser did by any measure.

              1. shrike|1.26.11 @ 10:23PM|#
                “No, Carter ….basically a libertarian.”

                Goat-ass-sucking prick claims Carter was a libertarian.
                Nuff said.

              2. Carter was a placeholder – he did none of the damage Bush the Lesser did by any measure.

                That’s like saying Pol Pot wasn’t as bad as Genghis Khan.

      4. Do you expect people to defend Bush here?

        I think you are confused.

        1. Is that a play on “shriekback” and their dinosaur song?

          very clever if so.

          1. Shrikeback happens when Shrike half vomits Carter’s splooge before his penis is fully removed from Shrike’s mouth.

      5. your “good war”

      6. Yes, Bush is also an idiot. But why are you so defensive about Carter? Are you sucking his shriveled up old dick?

        1. Carter didn’t fuck the USA in the ass like Bush/Cheney did.

          Now if you like a good ass-fucking then Bush/Cheney might be your ticket to the Apocalypse.

          1. shrike|1.26.11 @ 10:28PM|#
            “Carter didn’t fuck the USA in the ass like Bush/Cheney did.”

            Goat-ass-sucking prick defends Carter as better than Bush.
            Nuff said.

            1. Are you kidding me? You don’t remember the gas lines? Stagnation? The “malaise?” Dude, read a book or go to wikipedia.

          2. and has continued to do so.

        2. Ahh, don’t worry about it. Shreik is just suffering from a bout of malaise.

      7. shrike|1.26.11 @ 7:51PM|#
        “yeah? Did he lie us into a losing war?”

        Has he kept us in a losing war for two years? Yep, sure has, asshole.

      8. Reagan and Clinton. But you wouldn’t, would you sreeek?

      9. Did he lie us into a losing war?

        No, just a losing “moral equivalent of war”.

      10. He resurrected Selective Service, to remind us all who was the master, and who are the slaves.

      11. Carter appointed Volcker as Fed chairman. Volcker saved the dollar from oblivion. That alone balances out any bad stuff you can blame on Carter.

  8. Obama referred to a “Sputnik moment” for America due an educational challenge from China and India. But hundreds of thousands of Chinese and Indians make a beeline to American universities every year for higher education and India’s education minister has been trying hard to bring American universities to India and was stopped only by me. India may produce more than half a million engineering graduates a year versus seventy thousand for the United States but four hundred thousand of these Indian engineering graduates will be hired just this year to work as software coolies for the United States. This is the problem with having a person of color as president; white Americans know Indians and Chinese are their slaves but not this president; a person of color cannot be the Americans’ legitimate president.
    The Indian government has sought “diplomatic immunity” from the United States for minister Kamal Nath from court summons in a case filed in the United States for his participation in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India. This means the Indian government is conceding that other Indians who do not have diplomatic immunity can be summoned by United States courts for alleged crimes committed by them in India and thus is giving the United States imperial authority over India and surrendering India’s sovereignty to the United States. Indian government officials take an oath to uphold India’s sovereignty and, by thus surrendering India’s sovereignty to the United States, are guilty of treason and must be dismissed from office and prosecuted for treason. The Indian officials guilty of this treason include Manmohan Singh.
    I am India’s expert in strategic defence and the father of India’s strategic program including the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program and in my blog titled ‘Nuclear Supremacy for India Over U.S.’, which can be found by a Yahoo search with the title, I have said force is the foundation of sovereignty and justice. Around 1989, when the United States invaded Panama and brought its head of state Manuel Noriega in chains to the United States for alleged drug crimes committed by him in Panama, I recounted in a letter which appeared in News India, New York saying in a telephone conversation with Mrs. Imelda Marcos of the Philippines when she and her husband, the president, were being prosecuted in a U.S. district court in New York for alleged corruption in the Philippines that ‘These are Europeans who have usurped the land of other people and committed genocide on them. … Each time we buy anything from the United States, we pay taxes that are being used to commit crimes all over the world by the C.I.A.; we have the right to arrest president Bush and the entire American government and try them under Indian law’ and said ‘ It is not the law, the problem is enforcement — who has got the guns. There is an American saying that ‘If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns’; these (the Americans) are the biggest outlaws in the world and they’ve got the guns — nuclear weapons — and they would like to keep it that way’. Recently there was much to do about the Indian ambassador to the U.S. having been searched at a U.S. airport but, as I have described in my blog, when George W. Bush came to India as president, U.S. security men searched Manmohan Singh who was waiting to receive him at the New Delhi airport, as an Indian TV channel reported and Vajpayee tried to excuse that by saying ‘Atithi Devo Bhav’ (a guest is God); this invader of Afghanistan, that is Indian subcontinent — that is India — is God to India’s traitor prime ministers and Manmohan Singh told him Indians “deeply love” him; see my blog for “Source of Manmohan Singh’s ‘deep love’ for Bush” in the genocide the British committed on Indians, killing over ten million in the ten years after 1857.
    I said in my Press Release dated August 14, 2008, included in my blog, that “The criminals of the Supreme Court, loyal as they are to the firangis (above), could not give a hoot for India’s sovereignty and they show it in their behaviour. India’s Parliament, from the Speaker to individual MPs, has also shown its indifference to India’s sovereignty. The surrender of India’s sovereignty by the Executive is known to everyone. India’s sovereignty rests only in me. I am India’s sovereign.” India’s sovereign lives in poverty in the United States and treated as a slave by Americans (while the Indians, including Indian courts, treat a white woman as their empress who lives and travels in royal splendor at public expense and is above the law, as I showed in a press release dated January 9, 2011 and cannot even be probed for her role in a crime unless she invites a probe): “In my blog titled ‘Nuclear Supremacy For India Over U.S.’, which can be found by a Yahoo search with the title, I have described how the C.I.A. keeps India poor, weak and enslaved. “India’s greatest scientist and greatest living Indian publicly tortured in Harvard seminar, systematically and totally starved for up to 3 weeks at a time, made semi-starved and homeless and even blind for years, kept under 24-hour audio and video surveillance as well as surveillance of communications and electrical typewriter and computer use, document creation and photocopying, etc., by satellite for more than past 3 decades, systematically harassed and in poverty and neutralised and robbed of his work at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars per year, robbed of crores in his money and property in India by C.I.A.-RAW, forced back into exile in the U.S., all with full cooperation and participation of India’s RAW and India’s C.I.A.-RAW-controlled prime ministers, politicians and media — to keep India poor, weak and enslaved” and how this means the nuclear destruction of New Delhi and then the coast-to-coast destruction of the United States.”
    After I wrote above that “I am India’s sovereign”, the above white woman gave “Republic Day celebrations a miss” on the pretext that she is “running a fever since Tuesday” because of fear that, like the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, she might be killed by the soldiers taking part in the parade; a request that the soldiers in the parade march with the firing pins removed from their firearms was rejected by the armed forces.

    Satish Chandra

  9. This year’s SOTU was really a better example of how the mainstream media continues its quest to try and prop this guy up as a modern JFK/FDR, than it was of anything particularly substantive Obama might have actually said. It was pretty much a riff of the same speech he’s been giving since the 2004 Dem convention, but the MSM’s been portraying it as some sort of mind-blowing bit of political jujitsu that will propel us forward into a glorious Tom Friedman-esque technocratic wonderland.

  10. “It was because of Soviet centralism in technological development”

    Actually it was Nazi rocket scientists.

  11. Obama HATES the free market, I remember when he wouldn’t even meet with the chamber of commerce. Der fuhrer hates oil, steel, gas, and it if wasn’t for GE bending over backwards for him, he’d hate them to. He even hate Wal-Mart, although now that der fuhrerette has pressured them to sell healthy food, maybe he’ll change his mind.

    I can’t believe people still buy his BS. Gas is going up, electric and hybrid cars are way too expensive, we can’t drill in the gulf like before. Gee, thanks Obummer.

  12. It’s really annoying when Obama seems to be buying into Republican obsessions as if they were legitimate. I thought the “veto any bill with earmarks” thing was bizarre.

  13. I thought the “veto any bill with earmarks” thing was bizarre.

    I thought it was a rare lapse by Obama into making a clear commitment.

    One that he will fail to fulfill, and will provide campaign commercials.

    Its his “read my lips” moment.

    1. That was the bizarre part. He can’t possibly stick with it, and even though earmarks are an unimportant political distraction, he can easily be called out on it.

  14. Please explain to those of us in the hinterlands in what respect Paul Ryan is “…Howdy Doody?”

  15. Canadian Bacon director Michael Moore”

    I feel so used.. and dirty..

  16. Canadian Bacon director Michael Moore”

    I feel so used.. and dirty..

  17. Moore is about as thoughtful as canadian bacon.

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