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The Sorry State of the Union

The state of the union is just miserable, no matter how President Obama sugarcoats it. He will claim that progress has been made in stabilizing the markets, increasing national security and advancing toward meaningful health care reform, but he will be wrong on all three counts.

What he will be right about is that none of these problems were originally of his creation, and that the opposition party wants to exacerbate rather than solve any of them - believing, as they do, in that destructive maxim of desperate losers who find their salvation in the stumbles of the winners.

There is no doubt that Obama and his party represent the lesser evil, but it is deeply disturbing to have to defend the leaders of our nation in those terms. They were supposed to lead us to peace, but as the cables from the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, printed in The New York Times on Monday, make absolutely clear, the escalation in Afghanistan is tantamount to a disaster without end. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who was previously the top American commander in Afghanistan, warned: "Sending additional forces will delay the day when Afghans will take over, and make it difficult, if not impossible, to bring our people home on a reasonable timetable."

Obama distracted progressives with a grand crusade for health care reform that reasserted the fundamental fallacy of the previous health reform effort of the Clinton years: Give the insurance companies a captive universal market under the absurd illusion that we can control costs without undermining their greed with a competitive government-run option.

The same is the case with the collapse of the economy, as Obama shamefully continued the Bush administration's mugging of U.S. taxpayers by throwing trillions of dollars at the Wall Street bandits who caused the financial meltdown. Meanwhile, 7 million Americans have lost their jobs and 15 million families owe more on their homes than they are worth.


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Someday our president, whom I still regard as a decent and well-intentioned politician, will have to confront the demons of that fatal opportunism that led him to turn over the economy to the likes of Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner, who can most charitably be described as hugely successful Wall Street pimps. Obama knows of Summers' devilish role, during his time in the Clinton administration, in pushing the radical deregulation of the markets that the president blamed last week for our economic debacle. And he is aware that the TARP inspector general is hot on Geithner's heels for his role, as head of the New York Fed, in the funneling of $62 billion dollars through AIG to Goldman Sachs and the other bonus payout alchemists.

But there is no indication from the carefully orchestrated leaks of his State of the Union speech that Obama is truly set to reverse course. Rhetoric about the "fat cat" bankers aside, his policies represent more of the same. There will be some hokey gestures of support for the disappearing middle class, but at the heart of his new budget proposal are cuts in needed domestic spending for education, nutrition, air traffic control and just about every other worthwhile domestic program. But there are no cuts for the military budget that already makes up 60% of the federal government's discretionary spending and is comparable to the total military budget for the rest of the world's nations combined.

Budget director Peter Orszag, who is overseeing those cuts, is, like Summers and Geithner, a disciple of former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, whose radical deregulatory policies brought us to this point. Orszag's freeze on domestic spending, projected for the rest of Obama's term, will reduce the domestic budget to its lowest percentage in 50 years. That portion of the discretionary budget is already so small that the proposed cuts will save a scant $10 billion to $15 billion next year-chump change compared to the $145 billion in bonuses for Wall Street's high rollers dispensed after a year of massive national suffering that they engineered.

Shame on Obama for now telling us after wasting many trillions on Wall Street and the Pentagon, that he will now seek to balance the biggest indebtedness in U.S. history not by cutting from that greasy pork but rather into the bone of our civic life, found in funding for schools and other desperately needed social services. That is the opposite of a New Deal for ordinary folks in need of their government's assistance more than at any other time since the days of that last great Democratic president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Will we ever have another?

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Robert Scheer

Robert Scheer

Robert Scheer is editor of and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.

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