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We do big things.

President Obama's nod to American exceptionalism

There are no caps in that title.  No exclamation point.  None was present in the president’s State of the Union speech as he delivered those lines last week.

President Obama is supposed to be The Great Orator, but lately he seems to be missing the mark.  Why in the name of William Jennings Bryan did he wind up his address with a reference to the heroic story of Brandon Fisher and his “small business,” Center Rock?

To remind you, Fisher and his company envisioned, designed, manufactured, delivered, and operated the equipment that rescued 33 miners trapped in Chile last year.

President Obama quoted a Center Rock employee,

…”We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but we do big things.”

We do big things.

We are a nation that says….

We do big things.

In doing so, he missed the irony of using that story to support his idea that the US Government “does big things.”  He didn’t specifically say that–he used the royal “We” to recognize the American people–but it was clear from what went before and by his use of “We are a nation…” that he meant “We, the government.

But Fisher’s is a story of personal enterprise and individual effort; it has nothing to do with government programs and if anything it illustrates what can be accomplished if government gets out of the way.  Had the incident been a different kind of emergency, one that required the effort of any industry that is highly regulated, perhaps the rescue would never have been completed.

Consider the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.  Rules and regulations did not prevent the accident but federal government regulation then prevented the states from protecting their own beaches, prevented European allies from helping mitigate the damage with their ships and sailors who were already experienced in and equipped for that kind of situation, and prevented American entrepreneurs just like Center Rock from applying their talents to speed the cleanup.  Instead of doing big things, the Obama administration did every nit-picking little thing it could do to prevent ingenuity from winning the battle.  To this day, it leaves in place a court-rejected moratorium on offshore drilling, or the threat of one, that keeps American oil companies from full recovery.

What “big things” lie ahead?

He asks Harvard to allow the return of ROTC to campus.

He has traveled around the world, and he’ll do so again to make more speeches, and to stand with “those who take responsibility.”  He’ll insist that Iran meets its responsibilities, and “that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.”

He’ll reduce troop strength in Iraq.

He’s going to give us a “21st century government that’s open” and “a government that’s more competent and efficient.”  He seemed to say that he’d do something so that government could regulate salmon better, whether it’s in fresh water, salt water, or a nice fume.  But he wasn’t specific about just what that was.  And he says that “[v]eterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse.”  Efficient!  His “administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government.” That is big, but hardly new.

And he’ll

pick projects based on what’s best for the economy, not politicians.

Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying – without the pat-down. As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.

Yes, he really had those two sentences back to back.

Enough, already.  Most of these are small-ball items, either essentially insignificant in a grand view of the world, or little white-lie gifts to the cockeyed optimists among us who still believe that a government the size of the combined moons of Jupiter can be made open, competent, and efficient, and that multi-billion-dollar projects can be paid for by eliminating the same waste, corruption and loopholes that paid for the last twenty unwanted government boondoggles.

“Big” in this context does not equal “expensive,” it equals “very important and good for America.”  And to be fair, he did have a few items that might qualify, but he didn’t seem to realize it.  He merely mentioned them and continued on, or qualified them to such an extent that it guarantees failure.  Examples:  fix Social Security, reduce spending, simplify the tax code, eliminate loopholes and tax preferences, and reduce tax rates.  It’s clear that he either didn’t really mean what he said, or that he intends to stay back and follow while somebody else leads the way, letting them take the arrows from HIS party while doing so.  He has no intention of leading us anywhere.

But he could, if he really wanted to “do big things.”  Some suggestions:

Cut spending.

“Big” would be to accept the Republican challenge to return to the 2008 budget and go them two better.  Propose the 2006 budget.

Bipartisan effort and openness.

Recognize that the individual mandate in Obamacare is unconstitutional, and that while it is indeed “big,” the law is NOT self-financing, and that a big part of our deficit problem is the result of the fact and the manner it was forced upon us, creating huge fear among businesses that their employee health benefits are no longer under their control.  Join with Republicans and call for its repeal, to be replaced with several smaller, manageable laws covering a lot less ground but hashed out in open session in Congress.  Smaller in size, but bigger in importance.

Cut the deficit and amend the tax code.

Refer to the true results of the Reagan tax cuts–Huge increases in tax revenues, exceeded by huge increases in spending.  Start with one of the deficit reduction commission’s income tax plans.  By following a lower-spending budget (2006) the deficit will quickly start to shrink.

Illegal immigration.

Don’t just talk about it.  Do it.  Work with both parties as he said in his speech.  But don’t insist that every foot of border fence come with concessions to the illegal immigrant lobby.

Social Security.

Lead.  Don’t follow.  And don’t lay down conditions that guarantee failure, because Social Security is a problem that CAN be solved.  With a split Congress, he could actually do something BIG!

I’m sure you can read the speech and come up with more suggestions that are far “bigger” than his.

We Do Big Things!

See.  It’s better in bold, with caps and the right punctuation.  He should have delivered it that way and backed it up with proposals that were BIG.  Instead, he followed it with clumsy aphorisms and glittering generalities.  He came darned close to saying “the future lies ahead of us.”

If President Obama were a truly great orator, that phrase would be household words by now.  It would have joined “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” because it would have been followed by important new ideas, and not preceded by everyday boilerplate.  Instead, it’s been forgotten, as his speech will be.

He might as well have closed with, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

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