With America's chief Arab ally teetering on the brink of chaos and collapse, with unemployment stubbornly stuck above 9 percent, with an entire economic system facing cataclysmic breakdown unless Congress simultaneously cuts spending and raises the debt ceiling, will President Barack Obama persist in his feeble efforts to rally the nation with expensive programs for solar panels and high-speed rail?
In his State of the Union address, the president suggested that this is our "Sputnik moment." Actually, it's beginning to feel like our "fall of the shah moment." In the spirit of an embarrassing television relic of the unlamented '70s, discerning White House observers might proclaim: "Welcome Back, Carter."
Administration apologists insist that when the president delivered last week's chipper and platitudinous State of the Union, he had no reason to expect the imminent unraveling of the seemingly stable Mubarak regime. Skeptics might ask, why not? Given our government's multibillion-dollar foreign intelligence budget and the vast resources committed to our huge Cairo embassy, how could the administration fail to anticipate the mortal threat to a key Middle Eastern ally?
Looking back on the president's carefully crafted rhetoric in addressing both houses of Congress, his words seem to belong to another era, not just another week.
The most revealing moment came in a brief passage intended to win the public with a folksy laugh line. Responding to calls for drastic cuts to shrink the deficit, the president warned: "And let's make sure that what we're cutting is excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't be long before you feel the impact."
The polite titters in the House chamber masked the shocking assumption behind the president's words: To Mr. Obama, federal spending constitutes the indispensable engine that keeps all of society aloft. Governmental expenditure, not private effort and enterprise, keeps America moving.
At no point in his remarks did he allude to the inconvenient truth that the only source of money to maintain this spending is the productivity of the private sector. In light of the already devastating deficits, the only way to increase or even maintain current spending levels is to crush that private sector with crippling taxes, or to crush future generations with disastrous debt.