Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Twilight of the Libertines: we're gonna need a bigger hammer

Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” 
 
Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.
With these words, Barack Obama began his second Inaugural Address and his second term as President of the United States. The speech is being heralded as great, historic, and the like by many of the usual Obama fanboys in the media. Personally, I thought it was well-written and well-delivered. Like most inaugural speeches. Let's remember that people who become President even once, let alone twice, tend to be able to deliver a decent speech when the occasion demands it.

In the rest of the speech, the President more or less laid out his direction for the nation across the next four years, his hoped-for direction at any rate. In that regard, there were two key passages near the end of the speech, each beginning with "We, the people" (an excellent rhetorical construct, by the way) that require closer examination. First:
We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.
Let's be crystal clear here: the President--via Obamacare, alone--has already driven up the cost of healthcare and increased the deficit. The facts are pouring in and speak for themselves. Insurance premiums are rising, not falling. And this is because "basic measures" are being arbitrarily increased by the government, not in response to overall needs, but in response to very specific ones we are all --those of us paying insurance premiums, I should say--being forced to fund.

As to "hard choices" and "the size of the deficit," people would do well to remember President Obama's first Inaugural Address and what he said therein (my boldface):
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works--whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Four years under Obama and the question as to whether or not his policies work in this regard has been answered. The middle class has been losing income across the last four years. Job growth has been at the expense of these income earners, as the great majority of "created jobs" under the Obama Administration have been low-paying ones that have gone to people at or near retirement age or people just entering the workforce (mostly the former). Yet now, Obama fails to recognize these consequences of his policies, instead choosing to assume things are somehow headed in the right direction.

As to the part in bold from his first Address, what is there really to say? It's never happened. Those managing the public's dollars are not being held to account when they fail miserably in this regard. Obama has won a second term and Harry Reid is still in office with a Democratic majority in the Senate. It's somewhat surreal. In this second Address, Obama says almost nothing with regard to controlling spending and addressing the deficit, just the bit about making "hard choices" above. But what choices? Where are they?

The rest of Obama's speech addresses issues and lays out plans that seem totally devoid of considerations over costs. All are approached as if the government has unlimited funds to spend on pretty much everything. Which brings us to the second key passage:
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
Climate change and sustainable energy? Really? That's his big push, that's how he intends to serve future generations? Fours years in and the Administration is still unwilling to admit the colossal waste of government dollars that took place via "green" initiatives. This passage suggests that what ails us can be fixed by more Solyndras, and perhaps some more electric cars (which of course only became a reality because of Obama), along with a capitulation to the UN on climate change initiatives (which will cost astronomical amounts, in real dollars and in lost production).

Earlier in the speech, Obama proclaims that "an economic recovery has begun." Maybe it has, though there is ample evidence suggesting we are already in another recession. Regardless, this would still be an anemic recovery, by any standard. And that's because the Administration's policies have not fueled the recovery, they have impeded it. This is an issue that should have been front and center in the campaign, but it wasn't because far too many pundits bought the nonsense being peddled by the Administration; they failed to do their jobs, to question what they were told, in ways they have never failed in my lifetime.

But that is--right now--water under the bridge. There's no going back. But in moving forward, we have to learn to recognize stupidity when we see it, even when it is presented in flowery language in ways that make it appear compassionate and vital.

In 1888, Nietzsche published his The Twilight of the Idols or How to Philosophize with a Hammer. In it, he bemoaned the state of German culture and continued his criticism of institutionalized religion (Christianity in particular). The title itself was a mocking tribute to Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung (meaning Twilight of the Gods), the last opera in Wagner's Ring cycle. The point of the title was simple: we need to take a hammer to our idols to find out which ones are hollow (and therefore worthless) and which ones are solid. Of course for Nietzsche, pretty much all of them were hollow.

"Government as savior" is one of our own twentieth century idols. And right now, Obama is the prophet. Despite Reagan's demonstration of how this particular idol is far from solid, its cult has persisted and now even rules; a majority of citizens may very well be members for the first time in our nation's history. The promise of the cult is simple: we'll take care of everyone; no one needs to live in need of anything. And it's a promise we've heard before in other places and other times, one we've seen lead to utter ruin. Yet this time, it is being presented as a natural offshoot of what is really its antithesis: freedom.

Obama--in his speech--moves from acknowledging the intent of the Declaration of Independence (preserving liberty) to noting that times change to suggesting that his vision is consistent with the general idea of freedom. Dishonesty. High-minded and clever dishonesty perhaps, but dishonesty nonetheless.
My conception of freedom. - The value of a thing sometimes does not lie in that which one attains by it, but in what one pays for it - what it costs us. I give an example. Liberal institutions cease to be liberal as soon as they are attained: later on, there are no worse and no more thorough injurers of freedom than liberal institutions. One knows, indeed, what their ways bring: they undermine the will to power; they level mountain and valley, and call that morality; they make men small, cowardly, and hedonistic - every time it is the herd animal that triumphs with them. Liberalism: in other words, herd-animalization.--Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols.
Cheers, all.

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