by Victor Davis Hanson
So, fellow critics of Obama, what would we do instead? It is easy to harp, as Obama did in 2007-8, but hard to govern, as Obama learned in 2009. So for all the criticism, let us put up some sample proposals of our own.
Try the following:
1. Pay as you go, balanced budget—whatever you wish to call a return to fiscal sanity. Conservatives need to stop talking about tolerable deficits in terms of GDP; and liberals should cease the charade that trillion-plus annual borrowing is great stimulus.
The psychological effect on the American people of paying down the debt through annual surpluses would be incalculable. “Decline” is as much psychological as real, and begins with perceptions of financial insolvency. We have an $11 trillion economy, so balancing the books is not impossible. Note how Obama intends to “address the deficit” only after he has set two budgets that will increase it by nearly four trillion dollars. Note how Bush’s sin of running up large annual deficits is used to excuse Obama’s mortal sin of doubling them. Note how Democrats, after lining up for a trillion-dollar federal takeover of healthcare, are worried about a multi-billion dollar expense in Afghanistan. Cuts in defense, as the later Romans knew, are always the first reaction to profligate domestic spending and entitlement.
2. Freeze federal spending at the present rate, and let increased revenues balance the budget. The idea that we could ever cut outright the budget seems long ago impossible — given the culture of complaint and the melodramatic rants about starvation and murder if another entitlement is not granted. Still, some sort of leadership is required to remind the American people that much of what their government does is not just unnecessary, but counter-productive and they would be better off without it.
Apparently, Obama simultaneously believes (a) he can create a permanent loyal constituency of millions who either receive or disperse federal “stimulus,” in the fashion of the old Roman turba; (b ) he can borrow so much money that higher taxes will be seen as vital and therefore the original intent of income redistribution accomplished; (c) that, having had little experience in the private sector, but much financial success as a community or government employee, he can assume that money comes out of thin air and is to be dispersed non-stop through public benefaction; (d) the upper-middle class, which strives to be as rich as he is, is somehow culpable. A common theme throughout history is a paradoxical hatred of the equestrian, productive class, by both the idle aristocratic and entitlement constituents, who hand in glove need each other.
3. Some sort of fair or flat tax that ends the trillion-dollar industry of tax preparation, avoidance, and fraud. For about a quarter of the population April 15 is a spooky sort of Halloween. Instead, we need a tax system in which one can complete the necessary preparation in about 2 hours. Whose bright idea was it to excuse nearly half the American households from income tax exposure (Clinton and Bush, and now Obama?) — a fact that explains why in Pavlovian fashion recently Senators have been saying that we can add on a new war tax, a health-care surcharge, and a new high rate on “them”? The justification of a 40% income tax, 10% state income tax, 15.3% payroll tax, and new war and healthcare surcharge taxes can only be that one’s income was undeserved, ill-gotten, and thus better “rectified” by more enlightened federal redistributors.
4. Close the borders to illegal immigration, through completion of the fence, biometric IDs, employer sanctions, beefed up enforcement — coupled with a radical change in legal immigration law that favors education and skill, rather than simply family ties. The present mockery of existing law undermines the sanctity of every law. Those who knowingly break immigration laws, and know that they will not in the future be enforced, naturally assume that other laws likewise will not apply to them, from tax reporting to the vehicle code. We really must ask — why the national outcry over whether illegal aliens will be included in the new healthcare plan when $50 billion is sent back as remittances to Latin America each year? In rough math, each of the supposedly 11 million illegal aliens sends on average around $4000-5000 per year southward. Perhaps we could tax remittances to fund their healthcare? Something is strange about the attitude of “I must send $400-500 a month home to support my family, but now I am broke and need someone to pay for my care at the emergency room, etc.”
5. A can-do energy plan. Offer tax incentives for development of nuclear power. Promote exploitation of gas and oil reserves in, and off, the United States, as a way to transition over 20 years to next generation fuels without enriching our enemies or going broke in the process. I never understood why nuclear power for electricity and natural gas/hybrids for transportation — we could be nearly energy independent through both — were declared environmentally incorrect when dotting pristine fields, deserts, and mountain passes with ugly wind turbines, acres of solar panels, and miles of access roads was considered “green.” Does Obama really think that the truther Van Jones knows more about power production than the head of a natural gas or oil company, or the engineer of a nuclear power plant?
Now the symbolic and randomly odd suggestions:
1. For grades 8-12, teachers could choose either the traditional credential or the MA degree in an academic subject. Few laws would have wider ramifications in curbing the power of the education lobby and its union partners, and vastly improve classroom teaching performance.
It would cost nothing and do more for educational progress than anything of the last three decades (high school students can sense who wrote a MA thesis on the Civil War and who got a teaching credential taking Bill-Ayers-like courses on race, class, and gender stereotyping). Why can PhDs and MAs in American history walk into a JC classroom, but not a high-school history class? Eliminate tenure for teachers and professors, replaced by 5-year renewable contracts, subject to completion of contracted targets on classroom performance and continuing education. The combination of a therapeutic curriculum, with an increasingly illiterate student, has resulted in a national disaster. Hint: when students arrive ill-prepared from dysfunctional families as was common in the last few decades, they need more math, grammar, and basics, not more self-esteem and “I am somebody” pep courses. Each year I taught, I was struck by the ever more common phenomenon of students ever less prepped in grammar, syntax, and “facts,” but ever more ready to expound on something — anything really — about themselves, usually with the theme of their own victimhood.
2. Transfer the U.N. headquarters to an African or South American capital closer to the problems of hunger, disease, and poverty. I suggest either Lagos or Lima. Global elites could not walk from five-star hotels to the CBS studios to grandstand about U.S. pathologies. But delegates could match their solidarity rhetoric by concretely living with the other. We would get away from the “U.S. did it”. U.N. forces could ring U.N. headquarters when a nearby Chavez or Mugabe was rumored to be saber-rattling and crossing borders. When the Kofi Annans of the world got upset stomachs from their luncheon salads, perhaps they could address world sanitation and government corruption rather than Israel.
3. An end to affirmative action based on race. If “help” is needed, it should be based on class and income. Why should Eric Holder’s children be classed as in need while someone from the Punjab (of darker hue) or Bakersfield (with less capital) is considered ineligible? Why should a Carmel female at the corporate level be seen as progress, but not a son of Appalachian coal miners? The entire corrupt system is redolent of the 1/16 laws of the Old Confederacy, as almost every American is conning some sort of Ward-Churchill-like heritage to pull off what Ward Churchill did — get some edge over the competition for something that they otherwise might not obtain. Whether intended or not, affirmative action has become the pet project largely of elites, who feel their own capital and insider connections will ensure their own do not suffer from the unspoken quotas they impose on others — as a sort of cheap psychological penance for their own guilt over their own privilege.
4. Return of the U.S. Homestead Act and expand it to urban areas. Instead of redevelopment for wealthy insider grandees who tear down neighborhoods for convention complexes, state and local government should be encouraged to deed over idle properties to individuals willing to build homes and stay 10 years on the property. Shedding, not adding to, government land-owning makes more sense. Who knows, one might find self-help recolonization projects in downtown Detroit. Maybe Californians and some of their industries might move to the empty top third of their state, rather than families paying $1 million for an 800-square-foot bungalow in congested Menlo Park.
5. Outlaw the naming of federal projects after any living politicians. Don’t laugh. Without their names on highway stretches, bridges, and “centers,” most of these projects would not be built. Once a senator or congress-person accepted that there would never, never be “The Hon. Tadd Burris Community Center” or “Mt. Bud Jones Wilderness Area,” much of the earmarks would cease. What is the logic behind the notion that we immortalize a senator or congresswoman who uses someone else’s money to build a bridge, or lobbies for an earmark for his district, or, at best, simply does his job? Should carpenters get every fourth tract house named in their honor for their work? Should teachers have their classrooms forever emblazoned with their own names (Instead of “room 11,” we would get The “Skip Johnson English room”?)? Should doctors have surgery rooms with their own names on the door? People who give their own money have a right to eponymous monuments, but not those who do it as part of their job descriptions and with someone else’s capital. Our political class, not content with being increasingly corrupt, is now buffoonish as well. The career of the court-jester John Murtha is emblematic of the age.
There! — some modest suggestions for change we can believe in.
©2009 Victor Davis Hanson