Derek Thompson, senior editor of The Atlantic, thinks President Obama’s SOTU address has a lot in common with the grievances of Occupy Wall Street, for better or for worse:
A 7,000 word speech is bigger than a placard. But Obama’s address shared the same virtues and shortfalls of the populist movement. Like OWS, the president offered a diagnosis of the middle class crisis that was informed, passionate, and often insightful. Also like OWS, his solutions seemed small, misguided, or confused when matched against the scale of the crisis.
Now I don’t entirely agree with Thompson. I think neither Obama or OWS are particularly informed, their passions are misplaced and I don’t put much stock into their insight. However, some of the language emanating from OWS (i.e. the 99% vs. 1%) has made its way into our lexicon across the political spectrum and has given President Obama the raison d’ être for his re-election campaign in the absence of being able to make the case for his accomplishments in office or lack thereof. Which brings me to the two most interesting sentences in Thompson’s piece:
How do you fix a problem like the greater recession and income inequality? The honest, realistic answer is that solving such a problem is likely beyond the reach of a president or Congress.
In other words, there’s really not much of anything either President Obama or Congress can do on those questions or on most matters. But it’s easier for government to give the appearance of doing something rather than doing nothing. How else does one explain the President proclaiming the establishment of a Trade Enforcement Unit investigating unfair trading practices in China. Aside from the fact that we’re already well aware of China’s unfair trading practices, how exactly is this entity going to “enforce” anything against China?
After all, we also know that teenaged girls are not interested in teenaged boys with pimples and halitosis. Even if President Obama were to establish a Pimples & Halitosis Enforcement Unit (PHEU) to combat these afflictions, it is not going to change this state of affairs never mind human nature. The best adolescent males can do under the circumstances is invest in Proactiv & Listerine (with their own money if it all possible) and pray that puberty will run its course through the rough patches.
At least where the economy is concerned, the best the federal government can do is set optimal monetary, taxation and regulatory conditions under which businesses can be established and have an opportunity to grow. Unless those businesses are engaging in deliberately dishonest practices with consumers, impeding consumer access to the market, are impeding competition or if matters arise concerning interstate commerce, the federal government should have as little involvement as possible.
While the federal government can play a role in ensuring equality of opportunity, it nor any other entity can guarantee equality of outcome. There will always be variances in success, monetary or otherwise. The world does not owe you a living. Poverty will always be amongst us. But poverty can be minimized by the individual through diligent effort, education and family (or other source of personal support.) The individual is in a far better position to improve his or her own lot in life through his or her own wit and willingness to learn than through the wishful thinking of President Obama, much less the empty slogans offered by OWS.