By Michelle Albert
President Obama’s State of the Union Address last night was a look back to the past in order to save the future. Obama began with an economic trajectory, citing the rise and fall of the capitally flush American Empire:
At the beginning of the last decade, the year 2000, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. By the time I took office, we had a one-year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. All this was before I walked in the door.
The situation would have been daunting for anyone who walked into the White House last January. The fact that we are not facing the second Great Depression is a testament to the quick thinking of Obama’s administration, no matter how reviled the bailout plan for banks might be. But now that the immediate crisis is averted, the larger, looming problem must be addressed. And to do so, Obama is looking back, to last year and to the ’90s and beyond.
In an effort to curb government spending, Obama repeated his pledge to go through the budget “line by line” to cut unnecessary programs, a procedure he said would save the government $20 billion next year. He also called for Congress to reinstate the Pay-As-You-Go Law – so successful during the Clinton years – which mandates that new spending plans or proposals must not add to the deficit, and must be financed by existing funds.
Obama also turned to rhetoric that has its roots in all the economic crises of the past, calling for the government to “tighten their belts” and act “like any cash-strapped family” and spend only on programs deemed absolutely necessary. Not only does this harken back to the American dream of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, but it also serves as a humbling force. Spending billions of dollars on useless ventures because they serve the vengeful and/or capitalistic interests of the administration is an arrogant practice that contributed to the mess the country is currently in. Though we are considered a superpower, our attitude cannot match the moniker. Obama is calling for a new policy of social awareness and fiscal frugality. Let’s hope this new, humble administration succeeds – the kids in the picture of America are fading as we speak.