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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On the State of the (American) Union: Getting Real

It is certainly more politic to declare the state of the union to be strong rather than weak. In his State of the Union speech in January 2011, President Obama ended by stating definitively, "The state of the union is strong." Even though particulars could doubtless be found to support his claim, I contend that he severely understated the weakness in the state of the union at the time.

The $45 billion deficit in the Social Security fund ought to have raised more than a few eyebrows, not to mention the U.S. Government deficit of over $1 trillion and the related debt of $14.3 trillion. To claim strength as if the U.S. were still a going concern as long as such a debt exists is more fitting for a magician than a U.S. President. Furthermore, one could point to the 3.4 million inhabitants expected to be foreclosed by the end of 2011 or the 9.7 million unemployed on unemployment compensation in January, 2011 (51,000 added the last week of January alone), as well as to the 40 million inhabitants within the U.S. still without health insurance (i.e., having to wait until 2014 because of a deal made with the insurance company lobby--a party with a vested financial interest).

The President's State of the Union speech evinces a state of denial going far beyond one man. One might ask, moreover, whether structural or systemic solutions are even possible in a representative democracy, or is the free world destined to be poll- and issue-driven? Furthermore, are we too fixated on the status quo wherein we prioritize our debate on the size and involvement of government (e.g., tax increases vs. spending or tax cuts, rather more revenue and less spending) over the immediately pressing exigency of fiscal balance and the human rights of the least well off (John Rawls' criterion for a just outcome)? Are we destined to have solutions foisted on us by the brute force of necessity? In short, can we bracket our incremental approach based on convenience and think instead about the long-term viability of the system itself? The State of the Union of 2011 notwithstanding, the state of our union is worth taking another look.

Click to add a question or comment on the state of the American union.


David M. Herszehhorn, “Deficit Forecast Nears $1.5 Trillion, Fueling Partisan Battle on Federal Spending,” The New York Times, January 26, 2011.