You asked for it…

As we’ve gotten closer to what may be the most pivotal election of my lifetime, people have increasingly been asking for my opinion of the political and economic situation in which we Americans find ourselves.  While I’ve written about many individual aspects of this over the past four years, undecided voters in particular seem to be looking now for a more comprehensive assessment.  Okay, now that the debates are over and we’re entering the final days of the 2012 presidential campaign, you asked for it, so here it is:  We’re less secure in every way that matters.  We’re less secure economically, as evidenced by anemic growth in our GDP and employment statistics and by explosive growth in our debt.  We’re less secure nationally, as evidenced by our embassies being overrun, by our diplomats and border agents being murdered, and by the progress of Iran’s nuclear program.  And we’re less secure locally, as evidenced by newly-released violent crime statistics (which seem to correlate in some ways with chronically-bad economies) that are on the rise for the first time in two decades.  I like to think I’m a capable lawyer, but I’m glad I don’t have to make the case that we’re doing as well as we could be.

In 2008, President Obama essentially told Americans they didn’t have to make any tough choices – that he could massively expand government programs without massively expanding our federal budget deficit and national debt.  Since then, he has succeeded in massively expanding government, taking over the health-care system for instance, but he has also succeeded in massively expanding the debt and the deficit.  Now, in 2012, the President is finally telling Americans they have to make a choice, but it’s a false choice – that they have to either keep giving up more of their paychecks and more of their freedom, bit by bit, to the government, or they have to go hungry, or go without health care, or work until they die, etc.  Just like he was wrong in 2008 when he said we could have everything at no cost, he’s wrong now when he implies we can’t have anything unless we get it from the government.

Health care is a prime example – the President tells us that we can’t make health care more universally available unless we give up our freedom of choice and let the government take it over.  I’m a health-care professional, and I can tell you that that’s simply not true.  Think about the last interaction you had with a government agency – maybe it was renewing your driver’s license or license plates; maybe it was standing in line at the Post Office; or maybe it was phoning the IRS with a question about your taxes.  Do you think that a health-care system run like that is going to be a better system than an improved private health-care system would be?  There are some things, like national defense and domestic law-enforcement, that can’t be private, but in general, the government has never given Americans better services than the competitive free marketplace has.  Health care is never going to be cheap because it requires a lot of highly-trained people and a lot of high-tech chemistry and equipment, but it can be made affordable, for the vast majority of Americans, not by eliminating choice and competition but by increasing it.

And let me assure you that the unelected “Independent Payment Advisory Board” created by Obamacare will reduce senior citizens’ health-care choices more than anyone else’s.  For example, the board may decide that knee replacements aren’t “cost-effective” for people over a certain age, even if a person’s otherwise very healthy and wants to remain active, exercising, traveling, etc.  Even more frighteningly, the board may decide that chemotherapy and radiation aren’t “cost effective” for people who develop cancers past a certain age because the costs of those treatments aren’t “justified” by the “benefits” of extending their lives.  Every American, but especially every senior citizen, needs to think about whether he or she wants a bunch of government bureaucrats allocating our health-care services based on that kind of “cost-benefit” analysis.  If you’ve ever had to phone the Social Security Administration to ask a question about your benefits, think hard about whether you want to have to navigate a bureaucracy like that to find out what kind of health care you’re allowed to get (and from whom you’re allowed to get it – health care services are increasingly being rendered by non-doctors, in part because of a system that increasingly prioritizes cost over credentials and in part because of an impending shortage of doctors coupled with an impending deluge of patients).

Not to stray too far into the weeds here, but President Obama routinely lionizes President Clinton these days, so I think it’s important to call a couple of things to mind: 1) In the 1990s, Clinton mostly benefitted from “aftershocks” of a prosperity “earthquake” that was triggered by President Reagan in the 1980s, and 2) To the extent that Clinton’s presidency was successful, that’s largely because Speaker Newt Gingrich and a Republican Congress prevented Clinton from doing many of the things that he wanted to do, things like taking over the health-care system, as Obama’s now doing.  I don’t believe that Clinton’s higher tax rates were the reason why the federal budget was balanced during his tenure in office — the reason for that, I believe, was an economic expansion, still spurred by Reagan’s tax cuts and fueled by the presence of a Republican Congress to restrain Clinton’s spending.  If anything, Clinton’s higher tax rates probably kept government revenues from being as high as they could’ve been during those years (the “Laffer Curve,” based on the work of Reagan economist Art Laffer, which can easily be found online, illustrates how tax cuts generally end up increasing revenue to the government, while tax increases generally end up shrinking revenue to the government).

This is not to say that increasing revenue to the government should be our goal — our problem is never too little money coming into the government, but rather that the government burns up (i.e. spends) money like wildfire, and you don’t choke off a wildfire by smothering it with kindling (i.e. more tax dollars).  And even if Clinton’s tax rates did help balance the federal budget, that wouldn’t make wealth re-distribution right — if a thief gives some stolen money to the poor, it doesn’t make his theft right (by the way, this is why I’ve always cringed at the “Robin Hood” story, because it’s really just an “ends-justify-the-means” story, which I think contributes more to kids’ moral confusion than to their moral development).  But if President Obama really views Clinton as a model president, one has to wonder why he hasn’t followed Clinton’s example of finding common ground with Republicans, at least accomplishing shared objectives, as Clinton and Gingrich did with Welfare Reform, which, incidentally, President Obama has recently eviscerated.  Welfare should’ve remained reformed, and other “entitlement” programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, should be similarly reformed so that national promises to all current and near-term beneficiaries are kept while giving younger people reduced debt and tax burdens, more choice about their futures, and reassurance that they, too, will be capable of affording to retire with good health care when they’re older.

It’s not as if we’re any safer thanks to President Obama, either.  When you have a president apologizing for past U.S. foreign policy, talking about how badly he’d like to close the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention center, referring to the Ft. Hood terrorist attack as an act of workplace violence, apologizing to terrorists for a private individual’s YouTube video, seeking to try 9/11 terrorists in civilian courts in New York City, etc., is it really any wonder that Iran’s leaders have continued to pursue nuclear weapons despite the President’s statements that he won’t let those efforts come to fruition?  Whom do you think that Iran’s leadership would rather see win this election?  And how about Israel’s leadership?  Doesn’t that pretty much say it all?  When you allow yourself to appear weak, the only way to convince others that you’ll use force is to actually use it.  The better idea, though – best articulated by Reagan as “peace through strength” – is to avoid having to use force by always appearing unequivocally willing to use it.  In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, you can “speak softly,” but you need to “carry a big stick.”  This President has been virtually all soft talk and virtually no stick.

And as our enemies appear to be increasingly emboldened abroad, this President refuses to prevent people with unknown identities and unclear intentions from simply walking into our homeland on a daily basis with whatever they can carry.  He doesn’t even want to check photo i.d.’s to make sure they’re in the country legally before they vote.  Meanwhile, there is one area in which this President has done just about everything a president could possibly have done – keeping us dependent upon varyingly-hostile nations for our energy (by impeding domestic energy production and transportation at virtually every opportunity) – “green” energy is a nice idea, but it’s nowhere close to being a viable substitute for traditional sources of energy.  No, I haven’t forgotten, Bin Laden’s dead, and that’s great, but he’s dead as a result of a decade-long manhunt dating back to 2001, and he’d be dead if the President had been Gov. Romney or George Bush or Bill Clinton, maybe even Jimmy Carter.

Nobody wants to put more Americans in harm’s way anywhere in the world, but certain situations – like Iran’s imminent achievement of nuclear weapons capability, or the potential collapse of the nuclear-armed Pakistani regime, or an attempt by Syria’s dictator to either use his chemical weapons or hand them off to terrorists (nobody wants to revisit what happens when we don’t know where weapons of mass destruction have gone) – may, at some point in the next four years, leave us no choice.  If that happens, we’ll once again need the best-staffed, best-equipped, best-trained military in the world and a resolute strategist to lead it.  Alliances and coalitions are great, but we must remain able to “go it alone” if necessary.  Likewise, diplomacy is great, but there are always going to be those in the world who can’t be talked into civilized behavior and must then either be coerced into it or eliminated.

And again, we’re not just less secure economically and nationally – thanks to the reversal of a 20-year downtrend in violent crime, we’re less secure locally, too.  Crime has never seemed to have been a top priority of President Obama’s.  He eliminated the Drug Czar position from his Cabinet and directed the Justice Department not to focus its efforts on drug crime, preferring to rely on “treatment” rather than punishment.  And his solutions to violent crime seem to be limited to 1) gun control (via a back-door U.N. treaty that not many Americans know about yet, as if guns were the cause of crime – I’ve explained here many times that criminals, by definition, don’t follow laws, including gun-control laws, and that violent criminals will find the means to commit violence until you put them in cages or boxes) and 2) welfare, redistributing more money to people living in poverty.  He talks about reducing violence through educational programs to “hire more teachers,” and “reduce class size,” and “focus on math and science.”  Those are fine goals – for parents, and for boards of education, and for private school administrators, at the state and local levels.  They’re not what the President is supposed to be doing, and that’s a major problem – he’s been so busy trying to do things which aren’t the federal government’s responsibility that he seems to have lost focus at times on things which are (like protecting our diplomats).

There’s a reason why, in business, people usually don’t get CEO positions as their first management jobs – as you move up in management, overseeing larger and larger organizations, you learn to stay on top of many priorities at once.  For example, even if you’d prefer to spend your time taking over the health-care industry and raising taxes, you still have to make sure that you’re not presiding over the kind of State Department that says no to its diplomats’ requests for additional security overseas, or the kind of Justice Department that puts assault weapons into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.  That’s how you end up with murdered diplomats and murdered Border Patrol agents.  If the President had done his job correctly, nobody in the State Department would’ve ever said “No” to an ambassador’s request for more security, and nobody in the Justice Department would’ve ever said “Yes” to putting assault weapons into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

The President has been in office for four years.  If he knew how to solve our nation’s problems, he’d be solving them by now.  He keeps saying that the nation’s problems were so big when he took office that no president could’ve made more progress than he has in four years.  Then, he says he finally has a plan to reduce the deficit by an average of $400 billion per year over ten years.  Forget for a moment that that’s barely a third of our current and projected annual deficits – if he knows how to cut them by hundreds of billions, why is he just now getting around to it?  Why hasn’t he implemented this plan, at least the spending cuts in it that Republicans in Congress would support?  I’ll tell you:  because he’s not serious about reducing the deficit, the national debt, or the size of government.  He recently came right out and said (albeit to David Letterman, but he still said it) that, in his mind, the deficit and debt are not major problems right now; that they just could become major problems down the road.

In order to fix our economy, not one additional dollar needs to be sent to Washington, D.C. by Americans and American businesses, but if some were sent – if tax rates went up on the very people and businesses that employ a huge percentage of those Americans who still have jobs – does anyone seriously believe this President would use those additional dollars to reduce our deficit and debt instead of spending them?  You’ve heard him say the words, “We need to keep investing,” over and over – those are code words for, “We need to keep spending.” Tax rates aren’t too low – economic growth is too slow, because government spending is too high.  And the way to keep jobs in America is to 1) make it profitable for businesses to stay here, not to threaten punishment if they leave, and 2) stand up for American businesses against dishonest trade practices like Chinese currency manipulation and the piracy of American innovations and brands.

I’m always amused at people’s efforts to make it look as if certain constituencies somehow need the opposite kind of leadership than the rest of the nation needs.  In this election, it’s been women, the assertion being that President Obama’s re-election is somehow going to be better for women than his defeat.  That’s absurd.  First of all, I have good news for the woman who asked Gov. Romney in the second debate what he’d do about the “fact” that women earn $.77 for every $1.00 that men earn for the same work – it’s not true.  The questioner probably came by it honestly, from an Obama campaign commercial that even Obama’s U.S. Census Bureau had to disavow.  The statistic that she repeated compares the average hourly income of all women to the average hourly income of all men, not women and men doing “the same work.”  When you factor in occupational choice and time off after the births of children (which moms still take more often than dads), the disparity goes away.

If you really want women to do well in this economy (and I want everyone to do well, not certain constituencies more than others), then the way to achieve that is not to give them “free” birth-control pills (just as the way to help men do well in this economy isn’t to give them “free” condoms); it’s to increase the availability of well-paying jobs and of the kinds of educational opportunities that are prerequisites of many such jobs.  If an American, woman or man, can’t afford his or her own birth control, then it seems to me that that person ought to be less interested in who’s going to help him/her get “free” birth control and more interested in who’s going to help him/her get a job.  (By the way, gay and lesbian Americans are another constituency that purportedly will fare better if the President is re-elected, but even if you believe that the government has a compelling interest in conferring legal marital status upon the relationships of same-sex partners, that will be decided by legislators and courts, not by the President.)

Forty-seven million Americans (including tens of millions of women) on food stamps are not evidence of the Administration’s success; they’re evidence of its dismal failure, not because people are being helped – nobody wants to see people go hungry – but because 47,000,000 Americans should never need that kind of public assistance.  Yes, General Motors (GM) is “alive,” as the President likes to say, but just like the killing of Bin Laden, that would’ve happened regardless of who was in the Oval Office.  The President “saved” GM with a taxpayer-funded bailout, essentially forcing every American to invest in GM whether they wanted to or not.  Someone with executive experience would have done it differently – with a court-supervised bankruptcy restructuring, whereby the company would’ve continued to operate but with the supervision of a bankruptcy court, which could’ve prevented the company from going right back to business as usual and being right back in dire need of emergency assistance in another five or ten years.  It’s as true for corporate management teams as it is for individuals – simply erasing the consequences of irresponsible behavior only increases the chances of more irresponsible behavior in the future.

Over and over, the President keeps telling Americans that if we’ll just give up a little more of our paychecks, and just a little more of our freedom, then in return, he’ll give us all kinds of government guarantees, like cradle-to-grave government health care.  Anytime you take money from one group of Americans and hand it over to another group of Americans you destroy American productivity.  On one hand, you have a group of people who did work that went unrewarded.  On the other hand, you have a group of people who got rewarded for work that they didn’t do.  And in the process, you’ve incentivized both groups to be less productive than they could be.  Productivity is the engine of our economy and of our ability to fund our government, defend ourselves, and pay our debts.  Accordingly, the way to fix our economy is to incentivize productivity at all levels, especially within the small businesses where most Americans work.  You do that by reducing and flattening tax rates and removing onerous impediments to hiring people, onerous impediments like Obamacare.  That’s how you get jobs – good jobs – jobs in which women, and men, and old people, young people, black people, white people, gay people, straight people, native citizens, and legal immigrants can be as productive as they’re capable of being.

People who are happy to trade productivity and freedom for guarantees of government services would never want to vote for a guy like me because I wouldn’t want to preside over any government that implements those kinds of trades.  I also don’t want a Supreme Court that increasingly removes constitutional barriers to the imposition of such trades upon Americans, willing or not, and President Obama is certain to appoint only justices who are inclined to do just that.  President Jefferson summed up my philosophy when he wrote, “The government is best which governs least.”  By that philosophy, Americans keep the vast majorities of their paychecks in their pockets, and while there are fewer government guarantees, there’s more freedom, which means there are far more opportunities.  More opportunities translate into more jobs and more Americans able to pursue happiness, health, and prosperity in the ways they want, which allows the government to be smaller, less expensive, more efficient, and more effective for the people and for the purposes that really require it, purposes like keeping us safe, both nationally and locally.

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