Our nation’s capital is filling with nouveau New Dealers, social engineers, men and women with a glint in the eye. All are anticipating the orgies. There is a stimulus bill of $787 billion, an appropriation bill of $410 billion, a housing bailout bill of $275 billion, and the Prophet Obama’s colossal budget, promising $3.55 trillion of expenditures (including a $634 billion “down payment” on health care reform). My heart goes out to the American taxpayer, of course, but, somewhat to my surprise, I reserve a special sadness for former president Bill Clinton. In his party he is a dinosaur. Today, as the Obamaists swarm through Washington, the centrist from the 1990s must feel forlorn.
For years it has been his boast that he balanced the federal budget and maintained vigorous economic growth. He expanded free trade and, working bipartisanly with Republicans, reformed welfare. People left the welfare rolls and took remunerative employment. Usually federal spending hovers around 20 percent of GDP. In the Clinton administration it dropped to 18.4 percent—the lowest level since 1966. Bill said “the era of big government is over,” and he meant it. Today his party has passed him by. Bill, can we now be friends? I apologize for all my past rudeness, even the jokes. It is a matter of public record that you have made friends with Dick Scaife. Allow me to be next. Let us convene a conference. We could explore market solutions to public problems and together we could promulgate a manifesto on free trade. I shall bring some friends from the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institution—PhDs. Perhaps we can plot how to re-reform welfare after the Obama administration shanghais the poor back into the welfare trap.
Under the Prophet, federal expenditures will soar to 27.7 percent of GDP. That is the highest rate of expenditure since 1945. The deficit will hit $1.7 trillion this year and after a brief decline rise above $700 billion. His budget contemplates a recovery, but in 2010 spending will still be in the range of 24.1 percent of GDP. Moreover, he will raise taxes and cut the military.
Though we are mired in a recession whose recovery is still in doubt, the Obama administration is going to move on all fronts. As his White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has said, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” If you are suffering from the recession you might find Emanuel’s line callous, but that is just the way Democrats talk nowadays. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton put it this way: “Never waste a good crisis.”
Both of these crisisists apparently believe there is something systemic in the United States that needs to be radically changed. Perhaps they think that the past 25 years of growth that began with the Reagan administration and continued through the administration of Emanuel’s former boss, Bill Clinton, was a failure. So working simultaneously the Obama administration is going to fix the banking crisis, the housing crisis, and the economic slowdown. That is not all. It promises to usher in nationalized health care, nationalized education, and a nationalized energy policy abundant with green energy funded and regulated by the government.
With all of this hurly-burly going on I hope my new friend is not going to suffer the blues. In less than four years his presidency is going to be looked back on fondly by Democrats and even by me. I think it is increasingly evident that Bill’s Democratic successor is the most ill-prepared man to serve as president in a long time. My mind goes back to President Abraham Lincoln’s abrupt successor, Andrew Johnson. Mr. Obama’s problems in staffing his government suggest as much, as does the low quality of many of his nominees, at least the nominees who were not dropped for tax irregularities or for being under grand jury investigation. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner looks and sounds like an undergraduate. His colleague Peter Orszag is hardly better. In the months ahead we shall see what other duds the president has brought aboard.
So cheer up, Bill. Your legacy is going to look fine, save for that unmentionable run-in with what was her name again? Already things are turning against the Prophet. Just the other day Howard Fineman, writing on the Newsweek website, noted that “the American establishment is taking his [the president’s] measure and, with surprising swiftness, they are finding him lacking.” Bill, let’s have a beer.
VINDICATION IS SWEET! During last summer’s Olympics, I wrote in this space that the high-tech swimming suits worn by competitive swimmers in the events and manufactured by Speedo with the assistance of NASA scientists were irrelevant to sport and destined for further controversy.
In fact, I argued that the suits, known as the Speedo LZR Racer, were as inappropriate for competitive swimming as wearing swim fins in the pool. Now a rising chorus of swimming coaches and competitors seems to agree.
The LZRs are made of high-tech material. They cover a competitor’s body from shoulders to ankles. The material allows the body to float higher in the water. It also offers less resistance to the water than human skin, allowing those who encase themselves in it to glide through the water faster. Consequently, in championships everyone wants to wear an LZR. Those who do obviously have an unfair advantage over those who, for whatever reason, do not. Not surprisingly, since the arrival of the LZR the incidence of world records has increased—though this does not mean that today’s champions in their high-tech suits are really faster than pre-high-tech swimmers.
In fact, the use of the high-tech suits by Michael Phelps last summer casts doubt on the claim that his performance was greater than that of Mark Spitz in 1972. Phelps won eight golds, one more than Spitz. But Spitz, wearing a pre-tech suit best described as a brief, set world records in every event he won.
Phelps equaled Spitz’s seven world records, but the records he beat were set in olden times, before the advent of the LZR. It is estimated that the LZR improves a swimmer’s time by at least 3 percent. Did Phelps best each world record by at least 3 percent? He did not. Spitz’s Olympic performance is arguably history’s best.
We can thank the inventors of this idiotic aquatic contraption for this idiotic debate. Also we must thank NCAA officials who last September decided to allow its use in intercollegiate swimming. Why did they not allow the use of swim fins too?
Now coaches are grumbling that the high-tech suits have introduced a variable into the sport that detracts from the essence of competitive swimming: stroke mechanics, rigorous training, and competitive drive. Dennis Dale, the swimming coach at the University of Minnesota, told the Wall Street Journal, “I’m very disappointed that our sport has come to a point where I have to be as concerned with swimsuits as I am with the swimmers.” Said Phil Whitten, executive director of the College Swim Coaches Association: “It’s like having one pole-vaulter using a fiberglass pole and another using a wooden pole. It’s an absolute mess.”
Moreover, the introduction of high-tech suits not only gives an advantage to those who wear them. The LZR gives a special advantage to fat swimmers— yes, I said fat swimmers. The suits compress competitors’ flesh, making their bodies more buoyant and allowing them to float higher in the water. Yet when the fat of corpulent swimmers is compressed their bodies become more buoyant than the body of a lean, dense-muscled swimmer. Thus the fatties, according to the Journal, “float higher in the water and swim faster.”
Another problem is that the LZR suits are tremendously expensive. Whereas the ordinary brief that most swimmers still wear costs around $25, the LZR costs $550. Equally appalling, it is good for only a few races before it is worn out and falls apart. This adds thousands of dollars more to cost of athletic programs that might better use their money on scholarships. The LZR redirects competitive swimming from sport to technological experimentation. It causes athletic programs to place a swimmer’s swimsuit above an athlete’s education.
At the heart of the matter we see a clever swimsuit manufacturer expanding its profits hugely by bringing out a hitherto unimagined product. What allowed Speedo to get away with this? Doubtless the officials at the NCAA assume that they are part of history’s march to progress. Well, if it is progress when swimmers wearing a high-tech swimsuit break world records, it would be even more progressive if the swimmers took up my suggestion and wore swim fins. With them the swimmers would swim even faster and at much less cost. A standard pair of fins goes for about $30, and they last for years.
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