During the Civil War, when the union's preservation and slavery's abolition were in doubt, President Lincoln roused the nation with his dream “of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.” In rekindling our founders' vision, Lincoln helped assure that America would become the freest and most prosperous nation on earth, a status that successive U.S. presidents have dutifully maintained, or they were cast aside by voters.
As Americans Think Again about President Obama, consider that no president has won re-election amid such economic stagnation, declining incomes, high gas prices and business pessimism. Living astonishingly beyond our means and more indebted than any other nation in history, Americans face a reduced standard of living, diminished opportunities for our children and a weakened capacity to secure our national interests in a menacing world.
After trillions in fiscal and monetary stimulus, the 39-month-old economic recovery has one-seventh the gross domestic product growth rate of the Reagan recovery, in which double-digit inflation and interest rates also were slain. With 261,000 fewer jobs today than January 2009 (despite population growth of 9 million), exploding poverty, government dependency and income inequality imperil Lincoln's dream.
During the economic turmoil of 2008, Obama sounded Lincoln-esque, promising to “provide good jobs to the jobless, … secure our nation and restore our image as the last best hope on earth.” But unlike Presidents Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton, who understood the benefits of economic-growth policies — more and better jobs, larger paychecks, growing tax revenues without tax-rate increases, and deficit and debt mitigation — Obama doubled down on government-centric and budget-busting policies.
Having inherited a government moving in the wrong direction on bailouts, spending, deficits and debt accumulation, Obama floored the gas. Though critical of Bush's $4 trillion in accumulated debt and vowing to halve the annual deficit by now, Obama has run $4 trillion deficits — each nearly triple Bush's average — while increasing debt nearly $6 trillion to a sum ($16.1 trillion) that exceeds the U.S. economy. Historically, America's economy has grown more quickly than its debt — until Obama, under whom debt is growing $2.50 for every dollar of GDP growth.
With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security costs are exploding, consuming more annually than the combined cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and TARP bailouts. Rather than address the looming entitlement crisis, Obama's budget projects massive deficits and $20 trillion in debt by the end of his second term. It's so fiscally irresponsible that not a single member of Congress has voted to approve either of Obama's two most recent annual budgets.
Meanwhile, with Democrats in complete control of Congress through January 2011, Obama's signature legislative “reforms” — Obamacare and Dodd-Frank — ignored Republican solutions and imposed thousands of complex regulations and new taxes on the private economy, nearly paralyzing job creation and economic growth.
Though sold as “Wall Street reform,” Dodd-Frank makes bailouts more likely by designating selected banks “too big to fail” and failing to reform the financial crisis' real culprits — housing-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. With smaller banks competitively disadvantaged, lending is down, consumer prices are up, and expensive consultants, such as the former chiefs of staff to both Dodd and Frank, are in demand.
Neither is Obamacare meeting its promises. Insurance premiums are up $2,500, and according to the Congressional Budget Office, Obamacare will cost nearly twice its original estimate, leave 30 million Americans uninsured and cause 20 million people to lose their employer-provided health insurance. Additionally, it imposes 20 new taxes on families and small businesses and incentivizes employers to hire part-time instead of full-time workers.
Thanks to recent technological breakthroughs, America is now the most energy-endowed nation in the world. Allowing the responsible development of our resources would generate millions of jobs while turbocharging the economy and revitalizing distressed communities. Yet despite promising an “all-of-the-above” energy policy while investing $90 billion in noncompetitive green-energy companies, Obama blocked the Keystone XL pipeline and reduced drilling permits on public lands by 36 percent, compared with increases of 116 and 58 percent under Bush and Clinton, respectively.
Meanwhile, GDP growth slumped to 1.3 percent in the second quarter, but Obama proposes to increase tax rates on “millionaires and billionaires” (individuals and small businesses making more than $250,000) to promote fairness after opposing them in 2010, when the economy was growing at twice its current rate. But how can it be fair to implement a policy that the CBO considers economically injurious and would yield only enough revenue to fund 8.5 days of government spending? Given Obama's track record, how could another four years of the same policies result in enough economic growth to overcome our economic challenges?
Mindful of these challenges and eager to defuse the debt bomb while preserving entitlement programs for future generations, Mitt Romney proposes to expand the private economy with spending, regulatory, tax and entitlement reforms reminiscent of those enacted by Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton — modern America's most successful economic stewards. Romney proposes to cut tax rates by 20 percent for all Americans while maintaining the same share of taxes paid by the wealthy. But unlike Bush, he'll pay for them by eliminating expensive loopholes accessible only to wealthy individuals and companies such as GE.
Divided as we were during the Civil War, Americans long to be unified by a leader, like Lincoln, committed to expanding liberty and increasing individual opportunity — the source of human flourishing and America's promise.
Think Again — only by restoring these cultural bulwarks can we pass our children a strong America and remain the last best hope of earth.
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. Her column runs every other Thursday. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind. Melanie welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org