Wednesday, January 24, 2007

State of the Sacrifice

I missed the SOTU speech, as I was at rehearsal, but I doubt I missed much. The speech has become a ritual of the mixed economy/welfare state. The President assures various pressure groups that they will get their share of the loot, but rarely sums up the state of the union with any wisdom or literary style. The state has grown so vast that the speech can become a tedious laundry list of programs that does not just bust the crow, it blows the crow out of the air with a double-barrel shotgun. (“The crow” is Objectivist talk for the fact that human consciousness is limited. The mind can only keep track of three or four different things before one’s eyes glaze over.) In my more suspicious moments I think Clinton’s mind-numbing SOTU speeches were actually meant to make people stop thinking and just accept his leadership with the faith and worship he thought he was due. Whatever you say, Glorious Leader, we will follow you with blind obedience!

Hopping around the internet I’m finding surprisingly positive reactions to the speech, but also a sense that it doesn’t matter much. I wouldn’t call Bush a lame duck yet, but he is close. Following Reagan and Clinton, Bush will be the third two-term president who was weak in his last two years. Big change is difficult to effect in American government at any time, but especially so in a President’s second term.

Looking at the transcript, I see that President Bush takes on earmarks and entitlements. This is nice, but talk is cheap. Let’s see Congress actually vote away their pork and reform entitlements.

On health care, he says,

When it comes to healthcare, government has an obligation to care for the elderly, the disabled, and poor children and we will meet those responsibilities.

Now, how can Republicans be horrified by the Democrats’ socialized medicine schemes but ignore this? If the government takes care of the elderly, the disabled and poor children, then the principle of free market health care is gone and the road is paved for socialized medicine. Once you expand the state to cover the weakest, then the next to weakest look like they deserve it too and sooner or later America’s health care looks like Canada’s. The Republicans will get us to Hillarycare, just not as fast as Hillary would have done it.

I don’t know if Bush’s tax deduction plan will pay for the expanded coverage or enlarge the deficit. Are the details of Bush’s plan a step forward, backward or sideways? I will look to such experts as Richard Ralston in the next few days for answers.

On immigration, I have never understood why the right gets so excited about this issue. I suspect that people’s fears that our culture and our country are out of control and careening toward disaster are being scapegoated onto illegal immigrants. (Is there a better way to write what I mean than “being scapegoated onto”?) I have no particular problem with amnesty. Most illegal immigrants are still coming here to work, which helps the economy – at least, I hope that’s why they’re coming. The welfare state makes the issue of immigration, like it makes most issues, more complicated and worse.

The alternative fuels section of the speech just looks to me like another foolish government program. Get the government out of energy and then supply and demand, market competition and the pricing system will take care of things much better than all the geniuses in Washington, D.C. ever could. Of course, this principle could be applied to every aspect of the economy.

Bush says some interesting things on the war. He restates the neoconservative vision that democracy leads to security. As the history of Athens shows, democracy does not guarantee liberty, so I’m dubious, to say the least.

And ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East ... to succeed in Iraq ... and to spare the American people from this danger.

This is where the President is tragically wrong. Succeeding in Iraq is not winning the war. Eradicating all states that sponsor terrorism would be cheaper and easier than bringing democracy to Iraq, and is the only guarantee of our safety.

We went into this largely united — in our assumptions, and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq — and I ask you to give it a chance to work.

What constitutes failure in Iraq? How long must we be there to succeed? Must we become something of a neocolonial power guaranteeing Iraq’s security for the long term? Look at how Bush begins the very next paragraph:

The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others.

Here again, Bush is tragically wrong. How is it that we eradicated fascism in four years, but must struggle for a generation against Islamofascism? Only because George W. Bush and the rest of the establishment lack the will to fight a real war.

The United Nations has imposed sanctions on Iran, and made it clear that the world will not allow the regime in Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons. With the other members of the Quartet — the UN, the European Union, and Russia — we are pursuing diplomacy to help bring peace to the Holy Land, and pursuing the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security.

So the Quartet is America and… the UN, the EU and Russia? Will we have to get those three to approve of anything we want to do in the Middle East? This is a recipe for appeasement and failure. This is a recipe for eventual war, not peace. (Russia just sold anti-aircraft weapons to Iran. Do you think they will agree to any attack on that country?)

To whom much is given, much is required. We hear the call to take on the challenges of hunger, and poverty, and disease — and that is precisely what America is doing.

And after this statement of altruism follows a list of programs in which the money of hardworking American taxpayers will be thrown at third world hellholes. Those countries need freedom – individual rights and capitalism – not handouts. But really fixing the problem is not the point. Bush believes that sacrifice is the moral ideal:

When America serves others in this way, we show the strength and generosity of our country. These deeds reflect the character of our people. The greatest strength we have is the heroic kindness, and courage, and self sacrifice of the American people.

Kindness, courage and self-sacrifice – not exactly life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Bush and Jefferson have two radically different visions of America.

For the rest of the speech Bush gives examples of his altruistic vision of the moral ideal, hoping to end in loftiness and inspiration. Such demonstrations of loyalty to values can be inspiring, but only in a context of life on Earth and rational self-interest, Jefferson’s context. To Bush sacrifice is an end in itself. And this is why Bush is tragically wrong in our current war. When America wiped out Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, we acted with neither kindness nor self-sacrifice.


Anonymous said...

Excellent writeup Myrhaf. I got the impression that many Conservatives liked this SOTU because Bush refused to back down on Iraq. It really is a no-win scenerio in that Conservatives cling to our current Iraq policy because they see withdrawl as a victory for the Dems. But Conservatives will not consider total war as a legitimate option (there might be some rare exceptions to this). There just is no awareness on the part of the Conservatives for an egoistic approach to war. So it looks like quagmires like Iraq and Afghanistan are all we are going to get.

Oh yeah, and did you see that some Liberals are denouncing Bush because he left the victims of Katrina out of his speech? That's the Left for you. They love altruism so they constantly need victims. Where would they be without suffering and "victims"?


Myrhaf said...

They would be nowhere without victims. To liberals Katrina is the metaphysical norm and success is an accident. They see life as a permanent emergency in which the able must sacrifice for the victims.

EdMcGon said...

The alternative fuels section of the speech just looks to me like another foolish government program. Get the government out of energy and then supply and demand, market competition and the pricing system will take care of things much better than all the geniuses in Washington, D.C. ever could. Of course, this principle could be applied to every aspect of the economy.

This is the only section where I disagree with you. Simply put, as long as gas is reasonably cheap, the free market has no incentive to develop alternative fuels. This is a rare exception where I see government intervention/funding as needed.

Myrhaf said...

As long as gas is cheap, why do we need alternative fuels?

If the price of gas rises enough, oil companies will look for alternative fuels on their own and they will do it without any cost to taxpayers.

SN said...

On the healthcare remarks, where Bush said... "When it comes to healthcare, government has an obligation to care for the elderly, the disabled, and poor children ..."The way I read this is that it came with an unspoken post-script: "... and those three groups are already covered by Medicare and Medicaid, so we've done our bit."

He left out the idea that the government must give healthcare to the poor (i.e. poor non-old, non-disabled, non-children).

So, what he's proposing is a change in tax-law that allows individuals to pay for health-insurance with pre-tax dollars, the way companies do today. If this is implemented as-is, it will be a great next move (MSAs/HSAs were the first) toward more individual control.

Of course, the problem is that someone will say (as they're already saying) that his idea does nothing for the poor who do not pay enough tax for this plan to make a difference. And then Bush may have to add on some health-for-poor-adults scheme, and who knows what type of mix we'll end up with.

Well said about gas... it's cheap, leave it that way!

EdMcGon said...

Terrorists don't get funding from lemonade stands. ;)

In addition, do we really want our economic health reliant on the Middle East region? All it takes is one regional war there to send our economy rocketing down.

Anonymous said...


Environmental regulations and policies help fund the terrorists. Here is Reisman on this:

"Indeed, it is implicit that had the United States pursued a policy of economic freedom with respect to energy production over the last thirty years, the conditions for OPEC’s success as a cartel would never have been present in the first place, and the accumulation of vast funds capable of supporting terrorism would never have been able to occur. Every barrel of oil that the environmentalists have succeeded in getting the U.S. government not to allow to be produced, every ton of coal that they have prevented from being mined, every atomic power plant whose construction they have stopped, has served to make oil scarcer and more expensive and correspondingly to enrich OPEC and increase the funds available for the support of terrorism."

Bill Visconti

Anonymous said...

Here's my take on the myth of "energy independence" and what we should do with the oil fields of the ME.

Energy independence is misleading. Oil is a fungible good sold on a world market. If we don't buy Saudi oil, someone will. But that only underscores the importance of two important energy policies that would go an enormously long way in the war agianst Islam; one domestic and one international.

Domestically, the best thing we can do to fight the Jihad - and the easiest - would be to create a total free market in the domestic energy industries. George Reisman wrote an essay discussing this saying it was a "super weapon" against terrorism. He's right. Off-shore drilling, selling off the Alaska lands to private enterprise, eliminating environmental and anti-trust regulation imposed on drilling *and* refining; all of this and more would serve to radically increase American oil and energy production and lessen (I don't think it would totally eliminate though) the importance of oil from Petro-dictatorships.

Internationally, we should not let petro-dictatorships exist. Iran, Saudi Arabi, etc (and possibly even Venezueala) should have been dealt with long ago. The Middle Eastern oil wells should have been returned to the Western companies that made their drilling possible. It may have been neccessary to annex large sections of the Persian Gulf and maybe even create an American protectorate like Guam. There are options there. But the bottom line is that without Arab oil money, Islamic terrorism would not be the phenomenon that it is today.

Because of Western cowardice (and worse), the muslims and the Arabs have gained dominion over the most important commodity on the earth. That is the first mistake that should be corrected in the war against Islam whenever such a war is actually fought.

Bill Visconti

Myrhaf said...

Exellent points, Bill. I consider Reisman's "The Government Against the Economy" and Hazlitt's "Economics In One Lesson" the two most useful economics books I have read.

EdMcGon said...

I agree with you 100%.