Obama and the Crisis of Infinite Opportunity

Can the nation afford the president's transformation?

The word "crisis" appeared seven times in President Obama's address to the nation. And, as nearly everyone knows, the Chinese character for "crisis" is the combination of two others -- "danger" and "opportunity."  

Obama used those two aspects of the word to maximum effect.  Boy, did he ever. 

The danger in the current circumstances is rather obvious. However, cognizant of some criticism that his recent statements could be seen as "talking down the economy," Obama pulled back on the cataclysmic rhetoric.

But he is nonetheless seizing the opportunity.  His program isn't just another "new age"-type middling attempt to help the country "get back on its feet" economically in the short term. Instead, he's outlining a vision of government that is either bold or radical, depending on one's perspective.  Whether it is able to fulfill all of its aims and promises, however, remains to be seen. 

What isn't questionable is that this is a darn expensive proposition. 

One thing that need not really be said, Barack Obama can give a good performance.  He commands whatever stage he takes.  The House chamber was alive Monday night.  Though often filled with the usual partisan standing ovations, there was remarkably little of the bitterness that has characterized State of the Union-type addresses of recent years. The contempt that Republicans had for Bill Clinton or Democrats had for George W. Bush was remarkably absent -- even though Obama's program is as ideologically transformative as anything. 

In this very narrow way, perhaps it is too soon to say that the president's attempt at bipartisanship is dead.  There was more of a sense of collegiality between Republican and Democrat than in previous years.

During the '90s, Bill Clinton used the mantra "Medicaid, Medicare, education, environment" as the programmatic bulwark to block Republican plans to overhaul the budget.  Obama has gone the opposite route: Energy, health care and education are the magic words with which Obama plans to bring a long-term "change" to the nation. And, it won't be cheap.  

The word "invest" (or some variation thereof) appears 13 times.  By this word, Obama means "spend":  Spend money on housing (already proposed in the foreclosure plan).  Spend money on different levels of education. The latest universality goal for government now appears to be college.

We have made college affordable for nearly seven million more students. And we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children's progress.

Seven million more going to college -- because it is as evidently important for as many Americans as possible to have college degrees.  As important as it is to maximize the number of Americans owning their own home?  Hmmm...what could possibly go wrong? 

Speaking of universality, we will also be investing in health care -- with the ultimate goal of some form of universal coverage. Again, given what the drive for universal home ownership has given us, what could possibly go wrong?

And, of course, "investing" in energy  -- preferably "green" energy that weens the country away from oil-dependence and also battles global warming. 

Yet, with all of this investment, we are also supposed to believe that the deficit can be halved within three years (by the end of Obama's first term) -- in order to protect our children's future (in essence, another "investment"):   

And that is the responsibility to ensure that we do not pass on to them a debt they cannot pay. With the deficit we inherited, the cost of the crisis we face, and the long-term challenges we must meet, it has never been more important to ensure that as our economy recovers, we do what it takes to bring this deficit down.

Yet, the only enhanced revenue (beyond that which is currently law) he expects to have comes from, 1) allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire and, 2) drawing down forces from Iraq. Keep in mind that the latter of those two options is, of course, dependent on the circumstances -- as is the expanded deployment into Afghanistan.   

It is quite easy to be seduced by President Obama's soaring rhetoric. He is a confident man trying to rally a nation to his ideas.  But, while "hope" made for a great campaign slogan, it can't make money appear out of nowhere.  Obama says that "the day of reckoning" is here.

It may well be.  But who ends up paying for that reckoning?

Robert A. George is a New York writer.  He blogs at Ragged Thots.  

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