We Don't Do Big Things


Over at The American Spectator, Philip Klein points out the many similarities between President Obama's listless blueprint last night for "Winning the Future" and former president Bill Clinton's ballyhooed "bridge to the 21st century." Sample:

"So tonight, let us resolve to build that bridge to the 21st century, to meet our ch

allenges and protect our values," Clinton said in his acceptance speech at the 1996 Democratic National Convention.

In his State of the Union address last night, Obama said, "So over the last two years, we've begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. And tonight, I'm proposing that we redouble those efforts."

Is there a more flaccid verb in the English language than "redouble"? Calls to mind some grim, Hugh Hefner-style vacuum device….

Recognizing that I am hardly the average viewer here, I was struck last night by how tired, even sad, the whole spectacle was. It's 2011, and we're still talking about building bridges to the 21st century? Five years after George Dubya Whathisname used his SOTU to launch the instantly forgotten (but nevertheless signed into law!) American Competitiveness Initiative, we're launching a spanking new competitiveness initiative? Gonna get off that foreign oil, build that clean energy, and invest in our kids' education, just like we promised every January stretching back to Richard Nixon? And as someone (I forget who) pointed out on Twitter, 54 years after a country that hasn't existed for two decades put a satellite into space, we're still using moonshots as the go-to metaphor for all the lofty presidential goals no one remotely believes will ever come true.

Here's a reality check: We will not have high-speed rail within Segwaying distance of 80 percent of the country, ever. We will not get 80 percent of our electricity from "clean energy sources" by 2035, unless someone far outside the halls of government invents a snail that eats trash and poops hydrogen. Obama won't veto every bill that arrives on his desk with earmarks–re-watch that part of the speech last night; no one believed him.

Why won't these things happen? Because, as Rep. Paul Ryan rightly emphasized last night, the only real policy issue in America right now is that we are on the verge of fiscal catastrophe because cannot afford the government we're paying for today, let alone the one we're promising for tomorrow. And the president, though he is much more serious on this issue than a huge swath of his political party, is nonetheless not remotely serious about this issue. Vowing to cut $400 billion over 10 years (a plan that, judging by the two people clapping when he proposed it, will likely be cut to ribbons if it survives through Congress), at a moment when the deficit for this year is more than three times that, indicates that Democrats (and a helluva lot of Republicans as well) are hunkering down in our awful status quo–half-heartedly tinkering around the edges of spending, making incremental changes this way and that, then launching new moonshots and redoubling old impotent efforts. Politicians have put us on the precipice of financial ruin, and they show no indication of doing a damned thing about it.

And I think they know it. Look at the plaintive, semi-desperate, Stuart Smalleyesque mantra Obama kept repeating at the end: "We do big things." By his insistence his anxiety shall be revealed. We don't do big things, America, not in the moonshotty Marshall Plan way of speechwriters' cliche box. Increasingly, we don't do little things, either–like keeping libraries open five days a week in California. What we do is snarf up ever-larger portions of your grandkids' money for purposes that are usually obscure and often criminal.

There are more than a quarter million people working at the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce. Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security combined nearly pass the half-million mark. And at a moment of grave fiscal peril, we continue to spend half the planet's money on defense, with Obama et al expecting thunderous applause for snipping out "tens of billions" from future defense spending growth. We continue to arrest 800,000-plus people a year for smoking or trading a plant that makes you want to eat Pop Tarts.

No, these people are not serious about the task at hand. The state of our union, as measured by the competence of people in power, is a fucking disgrace.