Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Thrifty Nation vs. A Spendthrift Government

Tonight, President Obama will deliver what is undoubtedly the most important speech of his presidency so far. His domestic policy priority depends on convincing Congress -- or at least the right mix of influential moderates (like Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus) and liberals among Democrats -- that a reform plan to better guarantee the American people's physical health is a necessity at this time, not a luxury.

Problem is, the aforementioned American people -- the other principal audience to which this address is directed -- seem to have adopted a priority that may ultimately be 180 degrees away from the president's.

To wit: The public has seemingly decided that fiscal health might be more important than guaranteeing physical health.

The signs are everywhere: Debt was cut by a record amount in July. And it wasn't even close -- debt was slashed five-fold from what economists were predicting. Consumers are turning more frugal in all areas. The back to school period -- traditionally the second-biggest sales period of the year (after pre-Christmas) -- has seen a clear drop since last year.

Besides cutting debt and adopting thrifty behavior from a bygone days, the public is also putting more cash into savings.

So, with all of this, President Obama will ask the Congress to approve a plan that will cost taxpayers at least $1 trillion over the next 10 years. And, yes, that's in the face of a projected 10-year deficits of $9 trillion.

Barack Obama, who adopted then-brand-new social media devices like Twitter and Facebook two years ago as he launched his presidential campaign, found novel ways to reach his voters and the public at large.

Alas, President Obama has forgotten the old Nietzsche phrase, "If you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you." Just as individuals are achingly aware of their own financial circumstances, so too has this information-drenched age made the public as a whole much more painfully aware of how much the nation is now over-spending. Indeed, they are more worried about ballooning red ink than they are about whether health care will be overhauled. They're cutting up the credit cards in their personal lives and are beginning to wonder why the government can't start doing the same with their public dollars.

That's the reality to which President Obama speaks this evening. He may be able to corral enough of Congress to get members to go his way.

But what if that direction is completely different than the one the American people are going in?

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