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Putting America in Debt By: Mark Steyn
Washington Times | Tuesday, August 25, 2009


The other day, wending my way from Woodsville, N.H., 40 miles south to Plymouth, I came across several "stimulus" projects -- every few miles, and heralded by a two-tone sign, a hitherto rare sight on Granite State highways. The orange strip at the top said, "Putting America Back to Work" with a silhouette of a man with a shovel, and the green part underneath informed readers that what they were about to see was a "Project Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act." There then followed a few yards of desolate, abandoned scarified pavement, followed by an "End of Road Works" sign, until the next "stimulus" project a couple of bends down a quiet rural blacktop.

I don't know why one of the least fiscally debauched states in the union needs funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to repair random stretches of highway, especially stretches that were perfectly fine until someone came along to dig them up in order to access "stimulus" funding. I would have asked one of those men with a shovel, as depicted on the sign. But there were none to be found. Usually in New Hampshire, they dig up the road and regrade or repave it while flagmen stand guard until it's all done. But here a certain federal torpor seemed to hang in the eerie silence.

Still, what do I know? Evidently, this has stimulated the sign-making industry, putting America back to work by putting up "Putting America Back to Work" signs every 200 yards across the land. At $300 a pop, the signage alone should be enough to launch an era of unparalleled prosperity, assuming America's gilded sign magnates don't spend their newfound wealth on Bahamian vacations and European imports.

Perhaps if President Obama were to have his all-seeing O logo lovingly hand-painted onto each sign, it would stimulate the economy even more, if only when they were taken down and auctioned on eBay.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, India, China, Japan and much of Continental Europe, the recession has ended. In the second quarter this year, both the French and German economies grew by 0.3 percent, while the U.S. economy shrank by 1 percent. How can that be? Unlike America, France and Germany had no government stimulus worth speaking of; the Germans declined to go the Obama route on the quaint grounds that they couldn't afford it.

They did not invest in the critical signage-in-front-of-holes-in-the-road sector. Yet their recession has gone away. Of the world's biggest economies, only those of the U.S., Britain and Italy are still contracting. All three nations are big stimulators, though Prime Ministers Gordon Brown of England and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy can't compete with Mr. Obama's $800 billion porkapalooza. The president has borrowed more money to spend to less effect than anybody on the planet.

Actually, when I say "to less effect," that's not strictly true: Thanks to Mr. Obama, one of the least indebted developed nations is now one of the most indebted -- and getting ever more so. We've become the third-most-debt-ridden country after Japan and Italy. According to last month's International Monetary Fund report, general government debt as a percentage of gross domestic product will rise from 63 percent in 2007 to 88.8 percent this year and 99.8 percent next year.

Of course, the president retains his formidable political skills, artfully distracting attention from his stimulus debacle with his health care debacle. However, there are diminishing returns to his serial thousand-page, trillion-dollar boondoggles.

They may be too long for your representatives to bother reading before passing into law, but, whatever the intricacies of Section 417(a) xii on Page 938, people are beginning to spot what all this stuff has in common: He's spending your future. And by "future" I don't mean 2070, 2060, 2040, but the day after tomorrow.

Democrats can talk about only raising taxes on "the rich," but more and more Americans are beginning to figure out what percentage of them will wind up in "the richest 5 percent" before this binge is over. According to Gallup, nearly 70 percent of Americans now expect higher taxes under Mr. Obama.

But the silver-tongued salesman sails on.

Why be scared of a government health program? After all, the president says, "Medicare is a government program that works really well," and if "we're able to get something right like Medicare," we should have more "confidence" about being able to do it for everyone.

On the other hand, the president says, Medicare is "unsustainable" and "running out of money."

By the way, unlike your run-of-the-mill politician's contradictory statements, these weren't made a year or even a week apart, but during the same presidential speech in Portsmouth, N.H. At any rate, in order to "control costs," Mr. Obama says we need to introduce a new $1 trillion government entitlement. It's a good thing he's the smartest president of all time and the greatest orator since Socrates because otherwise one might easily confuse him with some birdbrained Bush type. But, if we take him at his word, a $1 trillion public expenditure that "controls costs" presumably means he's planning on reducing private health expenditure -- such as, say, your insurance plan -- by at least $1 trillion. Or he'll be raising $1 trillion worth of revenue. Either way, nothing is certain under Mr. Obama but death panels and taxes -- i.e., a vast enervating statism and the confiscation of the fruits of your labors required to pay for it.

That's why the "stimulus" flopped. It didn't just fail to stimulate, it actively deterred stimulation because it was the first explicit signal to America and the world that the Democrats' political priorities override everything else.

If you're a business owner, why take on extra employees when cap-and-trade is promising increased regulatory costs and health "reform" wants to stick you with an 8 percent tax for not having a company insurance plan? Mr. Obama's leviathan sends a consistent message to business and consumers alike: When he's spending this crazily, maybe the smart thing for you to do is hunker down until the dust has settled and you get a better sense of just how broke he's going to make you. For this level of "community organization," there aren't enough of "the rich" to pay for it. That leaves you.

For Mr. Obama, government health care is the fastest way to a permanent left-of-center political culture in which all elections and most public discourse will be conducted on Democratic terms. It's no surprise that the president can't make a coherent economic or medical argument for Obamacare, because that's not what it's about -- and for all his cool, he can't quite disguise that. Apropos a new poll, Associated Press reports that Americans "are losing faith in Barack Obama."

"Losing faith"? Oh, no! Fall on your knees and beseech the One: "Give me a sign, O Lord!"

But he has. They're all along empty highways across rural New Hampshire: "This Massive Expansion of Wasteful Statism Brought to You by Obama Marketing, Inc."


Mark Steyn is senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc.


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