Just to me, Mr. Obama’s 2010 State of the Union address was jarring in many ways.
He did not promise to maintain a sound dollar. He did not repeat the decades-long promises to help keep Israel alive. He did not offer any hope of a balanced budget at any time. These used to be standards of a SOTU address, but somehow in the world of Barack Obama, they are gone.
However, what really stunned me and made my “reality-check meter” start racing was his promise that he was going to double American exports in the next five years.
This promise, alas, shows just how far out in the world of “magical thinking” Mr. Obama and his staff are. “Magical thinking” is the psychological disorder in which a human believes that a thing will come true because he said it will or because he wishes it would or because of any kind of non-causal, nonrational thinking.
We see this a lot in small children, who believe, just as an example, that they will get a pony or a Schwinn because they want one or just because they saw a photo of a pony or a bicycle when they were eating their breakfast on their birthdays.
The sad truth on the export front is that never in the history of the United States in the postwar period have exports increased by 100 percent over a five-year period — except in the 1970s when exports did rise by way over 100 percent in nominal terms — fueled almost entirely by a wild worldwide inflation in commodities and manufactures.
In a period of even modest price stability, a doubling of exports in five years in dollar terms would be unheard of. (Or is Mr. Obama forecasting wild price inflation? Is that the subtext?)
In any event, what would be the mechanism by which the United States would achieve a doubling of exports, as my pal Phil DeMuth shrewdly asked during the speech? We obviously cannot compete with the Far East in many manufactures. We face extreme competition in agriculture and extractive products.
Would Mr. Obama plan on debasing the currency to get to that level of growth? The rest of the world would start dumping U.S. bonds like mad insanity and prices for imports here would soar, fueling inflation. Plus, the rest of the world would just debase their currencies to keep pace in a devastating game of “beggar thy neighbor.” So, maybe that might not be a great idea.
Or is he just shrewdly guessing that, if he chooses 2008 as the start year, because that was such a bad year for exports, we might possibly get lucky in five years and double it? It has never happened, but maybe if Mr. Obama wishes enough . . .
And here is the crux of what scares me so much about Mr. Obama. He seems to me to have a fairly loose purchase on reality.
He seemed (and I emphasize “seem” because like all politicians, Mr. Obama is a skilled thespian) to really believe he could pull the U.S. out of recession with a “stimulus” plan that never made any sense. He seemed to believe that just by the sheer force of his charm and his smile, he could bring peace to the Mideast. He seemed to believe he could improve schools in areas where the children just have a very hard time learning by smiling and saying, “Yes, we can.”
He seemed to believe himself when he said he was going to read every line of the budget to root out waste, fraud, and corruption, as if any one man could read the whole budget with its millions of lines — and as if he would know from reading a line for a dam in Idaho whether or not that money was spent wastefully.
He seemed to believe he was being “bipartisan” when he kept the GOP in Congress locked out of plans to pass Obamacare. He seemed to believe he was presiding over a “post-racial” America when he won entirely by getting spectacular majorities of the black vote.
Mind you, I don’t blame Mr. Obama for magical thinking. Mr. George W. Bush engaged in it when he said he would bring democracy to the Mideast (which would be a disaster for us since most of the votes would be for the jihadists). Mr. Bush engaged in it when he said he would bring in more revenue by cutting taxes. Mr. Clinton was deep in magical thinking land when he believed Yasser Arafat would help bring peace to the Mideast. FDR believed he could bait the Japanese and the Germans and still stay out of war.
But Mr. Obama’s magical thinking has a personal quality — i.e., a belief that he in particular as an individual can do superhuman feats — i.e., read the whole budget — that I have not seen before, and that scares me. We need a chief magistrate in this country — not a chief huckster or a chief self-deluder.
We have had enough of those, Republican and Democrat. We need a man or woman who speaks of limits, not of magic. Living in dreamland has gotten us into some terrible problems.
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