Barack Obama argues enough is enough, that we ought to sack non-issues like his saying a pig with lipstick is still a pig and the contention that this was a back-handed slap at Sarah Palin.
I agree, and I am much taken by the argument of a number of commentators that ours is a nation in decline and that political seriousness and attention to major questions is crucial.
Where I may differ with some of the commentators is how far along we are in our slide downwards and why and what the chief issues are. Where I differ with Obama is on his ideological druthers, which I see as the heart of the problem, not part of the solution.
I do believe decline is taking a long, hard look at us, and I think the danger is best treated with a healthy dose of realism, a willingness to face up to such facts as the indisputable one that our entitlement programs — our welfare state — will crush us if we don’t do some restructuring.
The multi-billion dollar system is already beyond our means, and when baby boomers retire we’ll have relatively few workers shoveling huge sums of their money to vast numbers of Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries, converting today’s so-called middle class squeeze into middle class strangulation.
Federal spending generally is out of whack, and Obama intends to spend gobs more while giving tax cuts to 95 percent of workers. His increased taxes for the wealthy won’t even begin to pay for the increases in that 60 percent of the budget devoted to the entitlements, and his tax plan to rescue Social Security will only stall the worst of that particular crisis for a very short while.
Even though there is an inexpensive way to mitigate health insurance woes (shift tax credits from employers to individuals), he wants a new health entitlement, which is the equivalent of blasting a gargantuan hole in the hold of a sinking ship.
To get real, we next have to get past political correctness and cries of bigotry to the truth that illegal and even legal immigration are increasing poverty and income inequality in this country — that while many immigrants have the skills and drive to succeed, massive numbers are undereducated and are more burden than boon.
Do nothing or little about illegal immigration, and fail to adjust numbers for legal immigrants and the criteria for their acceptance, and we undermine the economy and reduce opportunities and wages for native-born Americans. A big need: Give major preference to those would-be immigrants with education and technical know-how.
Neither Obama nor John McCain is particularly good on this issue, nor on appreciating the critical, wealth-producing role of business in our society, but it’s Obama who is calling for a "windfall profits" tax on oil companies, which would be ruinous in the fight to bring down oil prices and provide breathing room to resolve other issues in our energy peril. It is Obama who wants to raise corporate taxes, damaging our competitiveness and costing the government revenue as corporations leave the country. It is Obama who has attacked free-trade agreements, which at this very moment are facilitating economic growth through the sale of exports.
National decline is a huge, complicated issue, but what we know from various studies and books as mentioned in Lyle Rossiter’s "The Liberal Mind" is that, since 1960, we have seen enormous increases in violent crime, illegitimate births and single-parent families that give rise to poverty and social pathology. Norms that once guided us are widely ignored, with the consequence of less self-reliance and restraint and more incivility, intemperance and even decadence. Other approaches stress economic missteps and the rise of other supremely confident national powers.
I concur with the thought that ever bigger, fiercely regulatory government of the kind Obama holds dear has played a major role in what ails us, curtailing our freedoms and innovative, can-do vitality as it enlarges our dependency. His loose interpretations of the Constitution and his dedication to still more redistribution of wealth and diminished military preparedness forecast greater risk for the ebullient, optimistic, secure, materially blessed nation we have known.
We need to discuss such big issues, as Obama wishes, but if we do this in a way that faces facts, I doubt that he benefits.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)