Thursday, January 22, 2009

Words, Just Words

A lot of people have been gushing and bloviating over Obama's inauguration speech. Yesterday, Oprah and her guests were in full-gush mode. All I can say is, "Wait!" One speech at the beginning of a Presidency means nothing in the context of the whole Presidency. This was not Lincoln's "with charity towards all and malice towards none" of his second Inauguration in which he warned against seeking vengeance against the South.

Now for a little spot of analysis:

Quoth Obama: "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified."

Let's start with the part before the dash. It is not always clear what "too big" or "too small" means with regard to the size of the government. Does it mean size in terms of employees, employees and contractors, or scope? For example, one may simultaneously oppose agricultural subsidies and support a more rigorous food inspection regime. The scope of the government will decrease by removing it from intervening in the agricultural sector while government employment increases if the gain in food safety workers exceeds the loss of agricultural subsidy support workers.

Now, for after the dash.
  • "helps families find jobs at a decent wage" Is it the job of the government to find jobs for workers? Or is the government's job to create conditions whereby jobs are created. In other words, should the government actively intervene in the market or not? What does a "decent wage" mean? This term is hopelessly vague. If you want wages to be sufficient to support families, does that include one or two wage-earners? What about those who are not supporting families or even themselves?
  • "care they can afford" What does "affordable care" mean and who is to provide it?
  • "a retirement that is dignified." Again, what does this mean? How do reconcile this with the increasing burdens of Social Security and Medicare?
  • Finally, the things unsaid: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Are these not important metrics? Is not a strong defense from threats to liberty, foreign and domestic, essential? Without these, life and liberty are lost. Is not the government's job to enforce the law and fight (or prepare to fight) enemies? What about all of the other things that governments produce, from emergency services to information of all kinds?
Again, I will reserve judgment until I see what Obama does. His State of the Union address will be a far more important speech because, by necessity, it will have substance.

1 comment:

Marc said...

Seems like you're asking a lot of one little sentence, Chuck! I heard those words as an appeal to pragmatism in the context of a history of doctrinaire debate over whether more "government" is good or bad.

I thought it was a fitting speech.