Thursday, January 26, 2012

The State Of Irony Address

She can kill with a smile, she can wound with her eyes;
She can ruin your faith with her casual lies;
And she only reveals what she wants you to see;
Yeah, she hides like a child, but she’s always a woman to me.
—Billy Joel, She’s Always A Woman

I confess I couldn’t bring myself to watch the State of the Union.  But I did read it.  I’m sure it will be dissected ad nauseum in all the usual sources, and frankly there was so little substance to it that it’s not worth getting into much detail.  But I did want to point out a few ironies.

1.         Bailouts are bad, except when they’re good.

President Obama spent a good bit of time returning to the theme that we need an economic system that’s fair and works for everybody.  And among his favorite whipping-boys on this subject were the banks, which he repeatedly castigated for the mortgage industry collapse.  His message to them was stern:

It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom:  No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts.  An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody . . . [Big banks are now] required to write out a ‘living will’ that details exactly how you’ll pay the bills if you fail—because the rest of us aren’t bailing you out ever again.

Pretty interesting, given that back in 2008 then-Senator Obama voted for that very TARP bailout program.  But what’s funnier about this excerpt, is that barely twenty minutes earlier he was trumpeting the “success” of his bailout of the U.S. auto industry:

On the day I took office, our auto industry was on the verge of collapse.  Some even said we should let it die.  With a million jobs at stake, I refused to let that happen . . . Today, General Motors is back on top as the world’s number one automaker.  Chrysler has grown faster in the U.S. than any major car company.  Ford is investing billions in U.S. plants and factories.  And together, the entire industry added nearly 160,000 jobs.

Never mind that GM is back in the #1 position largely because Toyota continues to struggle with the effects of last year’s tsunami (and I thought the tsunami was part of the reason Obama’s policies weren’t working yet), and that GM currently represents something on the order of a $24 billion loss that taxpayers will never recoup.  Never mind that Chrysler isn’t even a U.S. company anymore (it’s a division of Italian automaker Fiat).  Never mind that Ford didn’t even take any federal money.  Look at what a glorious success Obama’s auto bailout has been!

Apparently bailouts suck . . . unless they benefit your UAW cronies.

2.         Making irresponsible bets with other people’s money is bad, except when it’s good.

Continuing with his flogging of the banking industry, President Obama blamed the 2008 economic collapse on their irresponsible lending practices—practices he intends to stop through regulation, and to investigate and punish those responsible with criminal penalties:

In 2008, the house of cards collapsed.  We learned that mortgages had been sold to people who couldn’t afford or understand them.  Banks had made huge bets and bonuses with other people’s money . . . We’ve all paid the price for lenders who sold mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them, and buyers who knew they couldn’t afford them.  That’s why we need smart regulations to prevent irresponsible behavior . . . So if you’re a big bank or financial institution, you are no longer allowed to make risky bets with your customers’ deposits . . . [T]he days of signing people up for products they can’t afford with confusing forms and deceptive practices are over . . . And tonight, I am asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis.

As I’ve detailed before, banks don’t make bad loans on purpose, and it was affirmative action housing regulations—measures Obama supported both in the Illinois Legislature and the U.S. Senate—that forced banks to make the risky loans he’s talking about; loans they wouldn’t have made otherwise.  I don’t know how you regulate away a problem that was caused by regulations in the first place, but if you want to seek out and punish the people who are truly at the root of the mortgage problem, be my guest.

You can start with Barney Frank.

But if making huge risky loan bets with other people’s money is a problem, what about “green energy” businesses like Solyndra, Beacon Energy, Evergreen Solar, Spectrawatt, SunPower, First Solar, and Nevada Geothermal?  These firms received billions in federal money from the Obama administration, and every one of them is either bankrupt, insolvent, or laying off workers.  Yet despite knowing—knowing—the significant risk that these ventures will fail, Obama insists on pressing forward:

Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail.  But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy.

Prosecute people who make irresponsibly risky bets with other people’s money?  

Hear, hear!

3.         Partisanship is bad, except when it's good.

The other pervasive theme of Obama’s address was the need to come together as Americans.  He opened and closed with vignettes about putting aside differences and collaborating as a team to achieve a common aim.  And towards the end he called for a fundamental change in the partisan way business is done (or not done, as the case may be) in the District:

Finally, none of these reforms can happen unless we lower the temperature in this town.  We need to end the notion that the two parties must be locked in a perpetual campaign of mutual destruction; that politics is about clinging to rigid ideologies instead of building consensus around common sense ideas.

Trouble is, Obama’s been one of the worst offenders.  He hinted at it a couple of times in his address, threatening to take unilateral action by executive fiat if Congress didn’t give him what he wants:

I intend to fight obstruction with action . . . With or without Congress, I will keep taking actions that help the economy grow.

These are not idle threats.  As I’ve detailed here, here, and here, this President has time and again ignored both any spirit of cooperation and the Constitution in his blind adherence to ideology, whether by effectively passing the DREAM Act by executive order even though it failed to pass Congress, or by unilaterally deeming unconstitutional (Defense of Marriage Act) or impractical (No Child Left Behind) and refusing to enforce laws duly passed by Congress and signed into law by the then-sitting President.  This is the same President who in 2009 lectured Republicans not “to do a lot of talking . . . [and to] get out of the way.” 

It’s always his way, or the highway.

The fact of the matter—as pointed out by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels in his rebuttal address—while the President has paid lip service to the need for a return to fiscal sanity and unleashing the economy, only the Republicans have managed to put forward and pass any measures to that end; it’s been the President and Senate Democrats who have stood in the way.  And when the rubber finally met the road and the President was presented with a Keystone XL pipeline that would have created upwards of 100,000 jobs at no taxpayer expense—a project that’s been studied for years, and originally was given State Department approval—he couldn’t bring himself to put aside the politics of bowing to the environmental Nazis in his base and allow the project to proceed.

Turn the temperature in the District down?  Why don’t we start with the thermostat your office, Mr. President.  

Methinks there is a lot of campaign ad fodder in here.  I just hope the GOP can get its act together sufficiently to take advantage of it.

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