The State Of The Union Is A Mess: Honesty Would Be A Good Start

Original Article

With a new year often comes anticipation and optimism. And this year the State of the Union address will be in front of a new Congress — with a Republican majority in both the House and Senate.

President Obama’s State of the Union speech will likely have its smallest audience to date. That is the price any leader pays for being dissembling on a range of important issues — from Benghazi, to IRS targeting of conservative American non-profits, to keeping your doctor, trading the Gitmo 5 for deserter Bowe Bergdahl — and showing disrespect for the voting public. After all, when after the November 4 election results came in, and Obama said he heard the message of “two-thirds of the people who chose not to vote,” that was final confirmation of rigidity and denial that turns people off.

What America’s domestic and foreign policy failure both now have in common at the outset of 2015 is an “Alice in Wonderland” syndrome — where reality is turned upside down, where nonsense is passed off as truth, where disarray is a plan and stonewalling is an acceptable response.

Unfortunately there are no silver bullets to our current predicament in either domestic or foreign policy. What American people should demand now is not immediate results but more honesty in public discourse about the causes of our national decline and the need for new and different approaches that embrace realistic solutions grounded in principles and institutions that work and deliver measurable results.

On domestic policy, the first order is for Washington to acknowledge the absurdity of dealing with over-indebtedness by piling up more debt or fixing problems with more regulations. Any new legislation or executive order — like a free community college entitlement — that adds to the federal debt should simply be dead on arrival. Clearly a new monetary policy approach is needed by the Federal Reserve, whose six-year experiment with  zero interest rates and money printing has left the poor and middle class entirely behind, while helping big government, Wall Street and corporate officers with big company stock awards get even richer. There is something wrong with Washington policy that has left the vast majority of Americans worse off than they were ten years ago.

On foreign policy, it is clear that the U.S. war on terrorism is utterly failing, largely because of an unwillingness to name and describe the enemy and its ideological roots. Radical Islamic jihad is on a barbaric march promoting a culture of death and total submission, capturing more and more territory in Africa and the Middle East, while the U.S. commander-in-chief can’t articulate a strategy to defeat this enemy — in large part because he won’t describe and acknowledge precisely who that enemy is. President Obama’s no-show in Paris appears to have been driven by his narrative of denying the Islamist characteristic of modern terrorism. The reality is that Islamist terrorists see this as weakness, and experience shows that weakness invites more enemy aggression.

The widespread polling in 2014 that shows public trust in both the media and government at or near historic lows — with only 24 percent acknowledging trust in Washington — actually has a positive side to it. If Republicans can help average American people connect the dots they can make a convincing case for less state activism, less regulation, tax reform and more freedom.

There may never be a highly informed electorate in America, but people do understand that increased government regulation — requiring government permission on ever increasing areas of their lives — has already gone too far.  People do understand that government cannot run national healthcare and cannot be trusted with more debt and tax revenue after such a manifestly poor record of stewardship of the resources already under its command. Similarly, average people and particularly younger people understand that entitlement programs need restraint and reform because government mismanagement has already robbed them and future generations – leaving those programs insolvent.

Why not think about this year as a turning point for greater government accountability and more power to the people? And as for we the people, let’s make it a year for greater self-reliance.

Finally, 2015 must be the year of protecting the free flow of information. So any suggestion by President Obama to subject the Internet to new costs and regulations or to the internationalization of internet governance protocols is unacceptable.

The internet is one of the few institutions that works well in educating, disseminating information and expanding freedom precisely because it is decentralized and relatively unregulated. That is something to uphold and protect, in contrast to what most institutions of government, public schools, and the establishment media have delivered.

Scott S. Powell

Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Scott Powell has enjoyed a career split between theory and practice with over 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur and rainmaker in several industries. He joins the Discovery Institute after having been a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution for six years and serving as a managing partner at a consulting firm, RemingtonRand. His research and writing has resulted in over 250 published articles on economics, business and regulation. Scott Powell graduated from the University of Chicago with honors (B.A. and M.A.) and received his Ph.D. in political and economic theory from Boston University in 1987, writing his dissertation on the determinants of entrepreneurial activity and economic growth.