State of the Union: The Return of Big Bill

By 01/26/2011

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Can Barack Obama turn himself into Bill Clinton? Yes, he can, we learned from this week’s State of the Union address. Bold initiatives are out. Nothing is bigger than a grape tomato.  Just as Bill made the State of the Union an occasion to make a compelling plea for school uniforms, so Barack is pleading for 100,000 more—not better–math and science teachers to replace the ones that are retiring over the next ten years. That’s 10,000 undistinguished replacement teachers annually.  How is that going to get us caught up with the Chinese?

When it comes to addressing the a total public debt as large as the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, Obama promises a freeze that will save $400 billion over 10 years. The numbers sound impressive until you learn from Matt Miller’s blog entry that the “government will spend $45 trillion over that period, so we have a bold call to shave less than 1 percent from projected federal spending.”

With public sector pension plans rocketing out of control, states and localities flirting with bankruptcy, Medicare, Medicaid, and social security burdens escalating out of reach, the president can only say, lamely, that  he does not “agree with all the proposals” of the Fiscal Commission he appointed, leaving it to his audience to guess what items in their package he likes.

So we now know the President’s re-election strategy as we return to an era of divided government.  Small-bore policies, defense of the status quo, kick the can down the road on all the big issues. It worked for Bill; no reason it couldn’t work again.

Except that two decades later the situation is a lot scarier, the problems more pressing, the need for action urgent, and the price of failure verging on the extreme. Big Billism, for all its political attractiveness, is not what the country needs.

-Paul E. Peterson

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