The Statist of the Union

Unsurprisingly, President Obama’s campaign speech masquerading as the routine address to Congress, spelled out in the Constitution and known as the State of the Union, was saturated with every prevalent form of modern American statism—protectionism, corporate-liberal socialism, nationalism, and militarism. In a couple areas, however, he was particularly bold in his statist proposals.

Obama blamed “jobs and manufacturing . . . leaving our shores” for the poor economy, and promised to penalize companies that outsourced jobs, levy a “basic minimum tax” on “every multinational company,” and “prevent counterfeit or unsafe goods from crossing our borders.” Shockingly, as Carl Close notes, Obama even took credit for having “stopped a surge in Chinese tires.”

Interestingly, given my recent blogging about intellectual property, the president complained about counterfeit American media being distributed abroad: “It’s not right when another country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated.” Now let’s assume this is true. Traditionally, copyright was largely limited by national boundaries. And what does Obama propose to do about poor merchantsn the streets of Shanghai peddling bootleg DVDs of The Hangover 2—the watching of which, I’m told, is itself a punishment disproportionate to the crime? Enlist the Chinese government to expand its power to crack down on it? This is one area where the U.S. government is almost surely more invasive, with ambitions to run policy worldwide, than any other nation that comes to mind. This has been a trend for a decade or so, but Obama scares me by bringing it up in his address.

Not to be outdone by Republicans, Obama oozes with pride in the U.S. warfare state. His is a softer-spoken militarism than we got under Bush, but the substance is the same. “At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down,” Obama said, the troops “exceed all expectations.” This is something few Americans wish to gainsay, and yet it hardly seems accurate in regard to the war in Afghanistan to which Obama was referring. Is it really correct that the fact that “some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home”—after Obama tripled the U.S. presence that was there when he took office, we must remember—is an example of the troops “exceeding all expectations”? When the war began over ten years ago, was it universally expected that by 2012 the U.S. military would be less far along in whatever it’s doing over there than it is now? Obama brags that “most of Al Qaida’s top lieutenants have been defeated,” yet we must note that there were only about an estimated 100 members of al Qaeda in the whole country—two years ago.

Obama, in complaining that “Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary,” repeats the tired Democratic theme that the rich are undertaxed compared to the poor, to which I always reply: Fine, then, cut taxes on the poor, and keep cutting until you reach a rate of zero. Surely then the rich won’t be paying less than their fair share. In fact, we  could cut taxes on the rich down to one percent at that point, and they’d still be putting in more than their fair share. But the talk of raising taxes on the rich, or anyone, is crazy in today’s economic environment. Yet Obama promises nothing but more soft socialist trickery to address the economy, such as tax increases and a “Financial Crimes Unit,” although I doubt such a unit will be investigating the improprieties of regulators, central bankers, or Democratic politicians.

Perhaps Obama’s most totalitarian proposal concerns the final nationalization of underage Americans:

We also know that when students don’t walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma. When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better. So tonight, I am proposing that every state, every state, requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.

Most people I knew who dropped out at sixteen did so with the consultation of their parents, having decided that those last couple years of cookie-cutter state indoctrination were not necessary for their success, and most of them turned out just fine. In many cultures, adulthood, in some sense at least, begins around thirteen or fifteen. Thanks to government education, in the United States it doesn’t seem to kick in until much later. If the Democrats get their dream of wiping out any semblance of heterogeneity among Americans from the time they are infants to the time they enter college, much of what remains in the American character of independence will be decimated.

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