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Le Figaro, France

A Beautiful, Surreal Speech
on the State of the Union

By Pierre-Yves Dugua

Translated By Laura Napoli

13 February 2013

Edited by Drue Fergison

France - Le Figaro - Original Article (French)

One probably has to be a Washington journalist to believe that the president’s annual speech on the State of the Union is supremely important. Within 48 hours, this speech, like its predecessors, will be largely forgotten. It will also be clear that Obama did not propose realistic and concrete solutions to today’s urgent problems.

In 60 minutes, Barack Obama laid out a long list of initiatives worthy of a Democratic electoral platform for the 2014 midterm elections. He spoke very little, however, on what would truly be possible to do with the Congress that he has now.

There is no way that the small Democratic majority in the Senate and the solid Republican majority in the House of Representatives will adopt a raised minimum wage, a system for taxing carbon emissions, or approve the spending of $50 billion more for “infrastructure” projects or to create an “energy security” bank. All of this is just a social-Democrat’s dream. It’s the program that Barack Obama would put in place if his party won the 2014 midterm elections.

In speaking about pressing issues, Barack Obama was unclear and totally lacking in courage. We (like him) know that there is a need to respond to the nuclear challenges of North Korea and Iran. On these questions, he had nothing more to say on Monday evening. Nothing new on Mali, on Syria, or on post-Chavez or post-Castro. My God, if George W. Bush had behaved like this…! We could already imagine what the Paris intelligentsia would have said. But Barack Obama, who gives France the Pentagon’s logistic support for French troops in Mali, is infallible. It is forbidden to criticize him without seeming like a Republican bastard. The villain was Bush, don’t you forget it!

On the question of immigration reform, compromise is possible. The president knows this. He was therefore cautious. In fact, he continues to let a bipartisan group of senators do the work that he refuses to do. On the question of gun control, it will be complicated, but a compromise is not impossible. I may have missed something, but I did not hear the president ask his friends and patrons in Hollywood to stop promoting gratuitous violence in their films…

That leaves THE big question that dominates everything else: the urgency of reducing, in the medium- and long-terms, the budget deficit. Barack Obama succeeded in addressing this by speaking for a long time without saying anything that might be constructive.

He forgot to say that Republicans reluctantly accepted tax hikes starting in January. He once again accused them of blocking all compromise in refusing to raise taxes. He spoke of negotiating a “reasonable compromise.” But where are the spending cuts that he promised? On this question, confusion reigns.

On the subject of raising taxes, on the other hand, his imagination and his courage were exemplary: higher taxes for businesses and the rich, that’s the solution for the woes of the middle class. In particular, according to him, there must be a price control regime for pharmaceutical companies. Not to mention the end of tax incentives for oil companies…a myth that Republicans believed last year.

Nothing in this speech led me to believe that Barack Obama has a solution for avoiding the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts starting March 1. He denounces today the same idea that he defended and promulgated in 2011.

In fact, the president’s tone shows that he is convinced that Republicans will be held responsible for the disagreeable short-term effects of these forced savings. He thinks he will emerge victorious in the court of public opinion with respect to these automatic cuts. He can count on The New York Times and television to make his case.

Republicans, for their part, think that it would be better to have automatic spending cuts than no cuts at all. They are absolutely right. But the loss of jobs for thousands of workers in a few weeks, when these cuts take place, will be used by Democrats as an illustration of the cruelty of evil Republicans who dare insist that Uncle Sam slow his course of indebtedness. Images of mothers, Pentagon employees, in tears because they can no longer afford to send their children to camp, will be more convincing than Republicans’ explanations of the dangers of long-term public indebtedness.

The policy of systematic indebtedness to feed a high-maintenance spending system remains the most practical, the most popular, and the most likely. Not because Barack Obama lacked the political courage to propose spending cuts. But very simply, because Barack Obama is sincerely convinced that public spending is good for America. Republicans, in his eyes, just stir up trouble when it comes to debt. As such, they are the enemies of the middle class.

In his response to the president’s speech, Republican Senator Marco Rubio tried to explain that the interests of the middle class are not served by chronic and uncontrolled indebtedness. How could he be convincing? There is no immediate cost to the U.S. in pursuing the policies of indebtedness and dollar dilution practiced in Washington.

The tragedy is that the deficits are popular and painless…until they stop being that way.



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