No, President Obama, I don’t ask the government to make my life easier. I just want government to stop making it harder.
After enduring a week of terrible news, we were blessed today with yet another speech by our President. And the only way to endure that is, of course, by analyzing it and revealing its true nature. So here we go…
[T]he United States received a downgrade by one of the credit rating agencies…because after witnessing a month of wrangling over raising the debt ceiling, they doubted our political system’s ability to act.
No, “our political system” acted. And “it” even managed to do so before the much-touted August 2 deadline. What it did not manage to do was make any real cuts in spending, especially not to entitlement spending. In addition “our political system” apparently managed to spend over $200 billion of the increase in the debt ceiling, on the first day of its authorization. Imagine if I did the equivalent with one of my credit cards…
Warren Buffett, who knows a thing or two about good investments, said, “If there were a quadruple-A rating, I’d give the United States that.”
Classic example of the fallacy, argumentum ad verecundiam (appeal to authority) of the qualitative variety. I don’t care what Warren Buffet thinks of the United States credit rating, given how much I know myself about what it means to pay back one’s debts, combined with what I know about the amount of debt the United States has accumulated. Do you?
I, and most of the world’s investors, agree.
Some might call this another instance of qualitative verecundiam, because Obama is expecting his audience to treat him as an authority here. But I’ll take a pass. He does slip in a quantitative verecundiam, however, when referring to “most of the world’s investors” (“fifty million Frenchmen…”). My only question is: has Obama been watching the stock markets? At all?
The fact is, we didn’t need a rating agency to tell us that we need a balanced, long-term approach to deficit reduction. That was true last week. That was true last year. That was true the day I took office. And we didn’t need a rating agency to tell us that the gridlock in Washington over the last several months has not been constructive, to say the least.
In the process of pretending he’s just being candid, Obama manages to slip in the word “balance” — a code word for “tax increases ahead.” He also manages to lay the blame on others: Bush and prior presidents for what existed “the day he took office”; the GOP, and especially the Tea Party, for “gridlock”. Note that Obama himself was not very helpful with the “gridlock” part. As I recall, he didn’t even take the risk of putting his own plan on paper. And he has made things worse since he took office. But who’s keeping track?
We knew from the outset that a prolonged debate over the debt ceiling — a debate where the threat of default was used as a bargaining chip — could do enormous damage to our economy and the world’s. That threat, coming after a string of economic disruptions in Europe, Japan and the Middle East, has now roiled the markets and dampened consumer confidence and slowed the pace of recovery.
Two problems. First, the one most guilty of using threats as a bargaining chip was Obama himself. He threatened that Social Security checks might not go out on August 3. He threatened that we might default. And he threatened that, as a result of a decreased credit rating (which happened anyway because the plan contains no real cuts), Americans would have to pay higher interest rates on their mortgages and other debts. Second, Obama violates one one of Mill’s Methods of induction here (his method of difference). We did not default. Moreover, nothing of major significance seemed to be happening to the markets when all the threats of default were being deployed. The market dropped only after it absorbed the news of how truly phony this debt deal is. There are no real cuts in it, plus it leaves way too much uncertainty for the future. Oh, and did I mention the amount the national debt increased in one day after the debt ceiling was raised? Over $200 billion. Just wanted to make sure I didn’t leave that part out.
Our problems are eminently solvable….
This paragraph contains nothing but an empty assertion followed by repetition. Next.
Last week, we reached an agreement that will make historic cuts to defense and domestic spending. But there’s not much further we can cut in either of those categories. What we need to do now is combine those spending cuts with two additional steps: tax reform that will ask those who can afford it to pay their fair share and modest adjustments to health care programs like Medicare.
The only sense in which the “cuts” were “historic” is the extent to which they were represented as being significant when in reality they were the same sort of phony cuts–cuts only to the rates of increase in spending, cuts that don’t even kick in until after the next election–we’ve seen time and again, for decades. As for “tax reform”, one of many euphemisms for “tax [theft] increase“: (1) why is it that Obama gets to decide what our “fair share” is? It’s our money. (2) Does he really think that taking more money out of the pockets and bank accounts of the American people will help us recover economically? I doubt it. Finally, with regard to “modest adjustments” in “health care programs”: Repealing Obamacare would be a great start. But Obama knows as well as anyone that the entitlement state is not sustainable in the long (or even the medium) term–even if it was the right thing to do (which it is not). The whole mess, including Social Security (which Obama didn’t even mention) will need to be phased out. “Modest adjustments” won’t even make a dent.
Making these reforms doesn’t require any radical steps.
I would say increasing taxes is a radical step.
What it does require is common sense and compromise.
Again, Obama invokes the magic word, “compromise.” And again, as I discussed in my podcast yesterday, he does not mean the sort of compromise in which we agree on a basic principle (e.g., that A should pay B some money if he wants to acquire ownership of B’s car) and the only concessions to be made are concessions within the context of the acceptance of that principle (in my example, a difference in the purchase price of the car). Rather, in the next paragraph, Obama makes clear what concessions he thinks must be made as part of the “compromise”: one must “put what’s best for the country ahead of self-interest or party or ideology.” Asking a politician to put aside “party”? Fine with me. Asking anyone to put aside his self-interest, assuming we mean one’s long-term rational self-interest? No. Not acceptable. Nor is it acceptable for Obama to call for anyone to set aside his “ideology.” As a Facebook friend of mine wrote earlier today, if we are to set aside our ideology, on what basis should we figure out what is the right action to take? We are human beings, endowed with a consciousness that is volitional and conceptual. We need a code of values to guide our actions. That’s what “ideology” is. So would Obama have our politicians–and everyone else–pretend that they were newborn infants who have learned nothing about the world or human nature? This makes no sense. Unless, of course, he just wants everyone to stop thinking and give him his way.
I realize that after what we just went through, there’s some skepticism that Republicans and Democrats on the so-called super committee, this joint committee that’s been set up, will be able to reach a compromise, but my hope is that Friday’s news will give us a renewed sense of urgency.
I’m sure they will reach some sort of compromise. I think they have to in order to get the further debt limit increases, which I’m sure have already been long spent. What I (and others) are worried about is what the content of that compromise will be. As I said, this deal left all of us with a lot of uncertainty, and with the threat of substantial tax increases besides. As for Obama’s “hope” about a “renewed sense of urgency”, this sounds more to me like a threat. Won’t that threat also “roil the markets and dampen consumer confidence”?
…the most immediate concern of most Americans, and of concern to the marketplace as well, is the issue of jobs and the slow pace of recovery coming out of the worst recession in our lifetimes.
Obama’s getting ready to throw us a bone so that he can perhaps, against all odds, get reelected next year. Here it comes…
Specifically, we should extend the payroll tax cut as soon as possible, so that workers have more money in their paychecks next year and businesses have more customers next year.
Obama is thinking, “Let’s put more money in their pockets next year, so then I can get reelected before the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2012. Then the joke will be on them.” (Note that Obama, like most politicians in Washington today, would not think in terms of “letting people keep more of their own money.”)
We should continue to make sure that if you’re one of the millions of Americans who’s out there looking for a job, you can get the unemployment insurance that your tax dollars contributed to. That will also put money in people’s pockets and more customers in stores.
Obama is thinking, “the unemployed are probably also more likely to vote for a Democrat.” Oh, and here he is right to use the words “put money in people’s pockets.” He should just add the modifiers “stolen” and/or “unearned.” I would be interested, however, to learn what percentage of those receiving unemployment benefits are simply receiving the equivalent of the taxes they have paid in the past. Anyone have stats?
[I]f Congress fails to extend the payroll tax cut and the unemployment insurance benefits that I’ve called for, it could mean 1 million fewer jobs and half a percent less growth.
Um, isn’t this another threat? Also, I wonder what assumptions are behind the “1 million fewer jobs” estimate. Oh, and how much new debt will result from an increase in “unemployment insurance”? Aren’t we supposed to be rolling back entitlement programs, not extending them? As for the payroll tax cut, of course extend it. I never met a tax cut I didn’t like. But don’t package the tax cut with an increase in an entitlement program.
We should also help companies that want to repair our roads and bridges and airports, so that thousands of construction workers who’ve been without a job for the last few years can get a paycheck again. That will also help to spur economic growth.
Yay, a call for still more spending. Surely that will help our credit rating, and the underlying debt problem.
These aren’t Democratic proposals. These aren’t big government proposals. These are all ideas that traditionally Republicans have agreed to, have agreed to countless times in the past. There’s no reason we shouldn’t act on them now. None.
They are big government proposals (except for the payroll tax cut), and pointing out that Republicans have “traditionally” agreed to them is just another example of verecundiam. Most Republicans are perpetuators of big government programs. Why? Because most Republicans agree with the ethics of altruism that fuels a “big”, redistributive government. Oh, and, for what it’s worth, there are millions of reasons not to act on these proposals (other than that of extending the payroll tax cuts): the millions of American lives that are being mortgaged more and more, each year, by this mounting debt. What I want to know is: What is the reason to enact these proposals? As usual, “need” is the only answer they can give. Again, the ethics of altruism.
I know we’re going through a tough time right now. We’ve been going through a tough time for the last two and a half years. And I know a lot of people are worried about the future. But here’s what I also know: There will always be economic factors that we can’t control –- earthquakes, spikes in oil prices, slowdowns in other parts of the world.
Obama takes no responsibility for any of the “tough time” we’ve been having.
Markets will rise and fall, but this is the United States of America. No matter what some agency may say, we’ve always been and always will be a AAA country. For all of the challenges we face, we continue to have the best universities, some of the most productive workers, the most innovative companies, the most adventurous entrepreneurs on Earth. What sets us apart is that we’ve always not just had the capacity, but also the will to act — the determination to shape our future; the willingness in our democracy to work out our differences in a sensible way and to move forward, not just for this generation but for the next generation.
Wait, did he say that, just because an authority says something, doesn’t mean it’s true? Hmmm. Note also that this is his second invocation of the word “will.” Perhaps he thinks we just aren’t trying hard enough to bring his vision of the ideal world into being? Maybe he thinks if he just gives us a bit of a pep talk, and tells us how great we are, and just tells us to try harder, everything will be fine? He did run on the idea of “hope”, after all. He finishes off this paragraph with a call to sacrifice, a call to “work out our differences in a sensible way”.
And we’re going to need to summon that spirit today. The American people have been through so much over the last few years, dealing with the worst recession, the biggest financial crisis since the 1930s, and they’ve done it with grace. And they’re working so hard to raise their families, and all they ask is that we work just as hard, here in this town, to make their lives a little easier. That’s not too much to ask. And ultimately, the reason I am so hopeful about our future — the reason I have faith in these United States of America — is because of the American people. It’s because of their perseverance, and their courage, and their willingness to shoulder the burdens we face -– together, as one nation.
No, President Obama, I don’t ask the government to make my life easier. I just want government to stop making it harder. I don’t want government to assume I’m willing to–and then force me to–shoulder other people’s burdens, simply because we live in the same country.
One last thing. There is no one who embodies the qualities I mentioned more than the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. And this weekend, we lost 30 of them when their helicopter crashed during a mission in Afghanistan. And their loss is a stark reminder of the risks that our men and women in uniform take every single day on behalf of their county. Day after day, night after night, they carry out missions like this in the face of enemy fire and grave danger. And in this mission –- as in so many others -– they were also joined by Afghan troops, seven of whom lost their lives as well.
Here Obama is appealing to our respect for our military to “inspire” us to be willing to shoulder more “burdens”. And yes, our soldiers take a lot of risks. But much of the risk they face is due to the fact that we are engaged in too many wars of the wrong kind. Why do we care about enabling “a stronger Afghan government”? Aren’t there less risky and less costly ways to ensure “that Afghanistan is not a safe haven for terrorists”? (Those are the reasons Obama cites in the next paragraph.) Again, altruism is to blame.
But now is also a time to reflect on those we lost, and the sacrifices of all who serve, as well as their families. These men and women put their lives on the line for the values that bind us together as a nation. They come from different places, and their backgrounds and beliefs reflect the rich diversity of America.
And what exactly are the values “that bind us together as a nation”? If Obama named them, wouldn’t that constitute an “ideology”?
In the next paragraph we see why Obama specifically mentioned our soldiers’ diversity of “belief”…
But no matter what differences they might have as individuals, they serve this nation as a team. They meet their responsibilities together. And some of them — like the 30 Americans who were lost this weekend –- give their lives for their country. Our responsibility is to ensure that their legacy is an America that reflects their courage, their commitment, and their sense of common purpose.
Obama is implying that, since our soldiers set aside their beliefs to work together, surely we can set aside our “ideologies” in order to help create an America that Obama can be proud of. The only question is, on Obama’s view, how much do we have to sacrifice in order to adequately “reflect” the courage and commitment of those who risk and lose their lives as part of the Armed Forces? Obama’s implication: if some of them give up their very lives, who are you to complain when we want you to endure just a little more financial hardship, just a few more of the burdens of your fellow Americans?
Do you feel the guilt?
A couple more points to make about this final paragraph of Obama’s speech:
First, the implied analogy between serving in the military and legislating does not work. Legislators set policies, which they cannot do in a vacuum, without the benefit and guidance of principles, or ideology. So, whereas I can see asking members of the military, in a certain sense, to set aside their differences in “belief”, for the limited purpose of defeating an enemy or carrying out a mission, legislators must bring their ideas to bear on the task of setting policies. This is especially true now when we need the best ideas possible to get us out of this terrible mess we’re in, and on the road towards establishing a government that serves only its proper functions.
Second, in a proper society, being in the military would not be a sacrifice (remember, to “sacrifice” means to relinquish a higher value for something that is of lesser or no value). In a proper society, we would be engaged only in wars of self-defense, not wars for the sake of a “strong” or “free” or “democratic” ______________ (fill name of country in blank). So, members of the military would be signing on only for missions in which our lives and freedom were actually at stake. Moreover, in a proper society, our rules of engagement would not be dictated by so-called “Just War Theory.” This means that we would not consider the lives of enemy civilians to be more important than the lives of our own military, and we would not put our troops at any unnecessary risk. In the words of Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein, we would “do whatever is necessary to destroy the threat [to the United States] and return to normal life, with minimum loss of life and liberty on the part of the citizens of the defending nation.”
Were you surprised at the number of distortions, logical fallacies, and guilt trips contained in today’s speech? I wasn’t. Because altruism is antithetical to human nature, one must distort and evade reality, and resort to intimidation and imposition of guilt, to continue to try to implement it. And it’s especially necessary to resort to these methods whenever one is confronted with evidence that policies based on altruism “don’t work”–i.e., are destructive of human life. Which is what we saw last week, both at home and abroad.
Thanks for reading! Are you interested in my course on Introductory Logic? Contact me and I’ll make sure you’re notified when I plan to teach it again.
31 responses to “Obama’s Speech: More Fallacies, More Distortions, More Altruism”
Very thorough analysis!
What irks me most is the primacy of consciousness premise operative in the whole credit rating downgrade: IF only they would change the rating back, if only the Tea Party would not press on about the expansive growth of government spending, America wouldn’t have these problems! It’s as if the perception of some discredited credit agency *is* reality.
Thanks for your post,
And it was primacy of consciousness that I was referring to when I discussed Obama’s repeated reference to “will.” Of course they have to resort to a primacy of consciousness approach now more than ever, because they are seeing their altruistic dream crumbling all around them.
Thanks for reading and posting!
Thank you sincerely, Dr. Peikoff. You are very courageous. I do hope you will enjoy when Mr. Obama is not re-elected next year. After reading your essay, I am becoming more certain that I shall not vote for him in 2012. In the meantime, I am fighting off the illogic of statism with the incredible Romantic music of Rachmaninov– his Symphonic Dances. Again, thank you.–EBII.$
Job well done Amy. Thanks for writing and posting.
Again, not even a mention of the REAL issue . . . that “our” elected officials are all for sale and that they are almost instantly bought upon being elected, leaving us without any representation. The system is broken . . . completely broken. Giving any attention to this strutting, posturing impostor is worse than a waste of time, but because we have been trained over the last several decades to be dependent upon our governments, we still listen and “HOPE.”
As I recall, Bastiat noted that there would not be any point in “buying” politicians if the politicians did not have the power to help or harm anyone economically. Right now our politicians have virtually unlimited power to regulate and redistribute, which makes them very susceptible to all sorts of influences. Because the expansion of government power was due to the ethics of altruism, I don’t see how government can be restored to its proper size and scope without us first rejecting that same ethical theory. I see political corruption as a side-effect in all this.
What I posted to FB on Sunday morning:
Buffett: “”Think about it. The U.S., to my knowledge owes no money in currency other than the U.S. dollar, which it can print at will. Now if you’re talking about inflation, that’s a different question.”
No, it’s the same question, because bondholders assume that, when they are repaid in the future, the repaid funds will still have purchasing power.
Yes, so this is something else that investors in the market have worried about, given that the debt deal cuts so little (and may not even cut all that is promised). We may have to “print” our way out of it all.
Amy that was a fantastic break down from the objectivist perspective.
Keep up the good work.
Reagan: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”
Obama: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
Thanks for posting that here; perfect!
Excellent piece of philosophical analysis. More Objectivists need to do this. I would suggest that in addition to tracing out how altruism influences today’s political destruction that you also trace out how egalitarianism influences today’s culture. Because it is not sacrifice for nothing that is being urged on us. It is sacrifice for certain manifestations of “equality” that is the dominant ideology. I strongly suspect that this is the legacy of Rawls who may have an even bigger effect on today’s Left than Marx.
Multiculturalism, feminism, and environmentalism are the dominant forms that egalitarianism takes in our culture. They each are doing terrible damage. Multiculturalism forbids the conclusion that Islam is constitutionally violent. This has affected our entire war policy, not to mention its effect on immigration – as we continue to allow Muslim immigration (Europe has allowed the immigration of 60 million(!!) Muslims to the European continent – that alone could spell their doom). Environmentalism has cost our economy trillions. Etc..
Sacrifice in the name of equality of conditions and outcomes is the ruling paradigm of the modern West. The West must sacrifice to the non-West, the “haves” must sacrifice to the “have-nots”, men must sacrifice to women, Whites must sacrifice to Blacks and non-Whites, heterosexuals must sacrifice to homosexuals, and of course the White heterosexual non-Leftist male is the root of all evil ™.
This is the world in which we live.
Thanks very much, Jack, for the compliment on the analysis.
“More Objectivists need to do this.”
Well, only they want to. It can be a fun logical puzzle, and/or a good way to blow off steam at times, but it can also be incredibly demotivating when you see how bad things really are. I may do more of it, only to help ensure that this guy does not get re-elected, and because I had some fun in pointing out the fallacies and teasing out the implications here and there. We’ll see, when I read his next speech, whether I feel that I have anything useful to say about it.
As for analyzing the speech in terms of egalitarianism vs. altruism: Altruism is the more basic concept, and it’s held in some form by most Americans (including most Republicans). Plus, whereas I do see in Obama’s speech that version of egalitarianism that calls for the sacrifice of the “haves” to the “have nots”, I don’t see the other versions represented. But maybe you mean writing a separate post on egalitarianism’s influence at some point? I gather that Leonard Peikoff will have a lot to say about the influence of egalitarianism in his forthcoming book, THE DIM HYPOTHESIS.
Excellent analysis, even though I didn’t hear the speech live or recorded.
Interestingly enough, the treasury secretary stating that he would not raise interest rates for two years brought back most of the loses on the stock market Monday. But you are right, though I don’t hold Obama as the sole blame for our troubles, though he is a large part of it. The Republicans do not have a moral backbone and refused to cut anyone off and refused to decrease the budget and gave no reasons to counter Obama saying the country as a whole has to take care of anyone who is hurting economically. It is a moral battle and the Republicans just don’t have it in them to argue against the welfare state, and hence Obama gets the moral upper hand, even with all his lies and distortions.
Obama wants us to give up our ideals of capitalism and that is what he is pushing for — total socialism guided by Washington, and no one is standing up to that aside from Objectivists, and our voices are not being heard right now. The Tea Party offers only a minimal amount of hope in that they want to uphold the Constitution and want a limited government, but even the freshmen Tea Party Republicans did not come out and say we need to end socialism and Medicare, Medicaid, and welfare — and ObamaCare (which will further burden the system).
I’ve also heard that Moody’s (I think) is tinkering with the idea of downgrading the United States given our current situation of very high debt and no control for it in the foreseeable future. And Obama already spent all the increase in the debt ceiling that he could, with no real intent of paying it back aside from printing more money or borrowing more money. I fear an even bigger economic collapse in the near future, because reality cannot be cheated indefinitely.
Thanks, Thomas. Interesting point about the drop in the stock market being tied to the refusal to raise interest rates. But perhaps that still goes back to the lower credit rating (which is due to the deficient debt deal)? From what I understood, the lower credit rating means that our government should expect to pay higher interest when it borrows money. (Recall that Obama was threatening that a lower US credit rating would mean that all of us should expect to pay higher interest rates on our mortgages, etc.) So maybe the treasury secretary was saying that he just intended to ignore the fact that the credit rating was lower and behave as if it’s not, and see if he can get away with it? And then the markets didn’t like that? I don’t know, I’ve got little knowledge in this realm. What do you think?
Amy, I think you misunderstood what I said about the market. The market came down Monday in part due to the credit downgrade on the expectations that interest rates across the board would have to go up, due to the government having to pay higher interest rates due to the downgrade. However, the head of the Federal Reserve or the Treasury Secretary has said that central bank interest rates will not go up, that they will be held artificially low over the next two years, and Wall Street rallied on this news. I don’t think it should have rallied, as this is just going to be yet another distortion of the markets that will have to be paid for down the line.
I noticed that the stock market came back down again Wednesday, erasing all of the come-back of Tuesday. In part because of the troubles in France, who might also be downgraded, but I think in the longer term, investors realized that keeping interest rates artificially low will not solve the debt problems of the United States, and that we will have to pay for that legitimate downgrade one way or the other. If not through higher interest rates via the central bank (the Federal Reserve),then though some other mechanism, like them printing more money to cover their over-extended butts, which will lead to high inflation in the future. The rally Tuesday was only a temporary means of making a short-term profit by the savvy investor.– some are quite willing to take a 6%-10% short-term profit in such a rally.
What I would say to someone who made that same analogy to me, is: the differences that can properly be put aside are the ones that don’t apply to the task being done. As politicians and soldiers perform different tasks, which principles that can be put aside differ.
Two soldiers with different political beliefs can work together to complete a mission, just as two congressman drafting legislation relating to the economy would have no problem putting aside different beliefs about military strategy.
But I’m sure if two generals are conferring on strategy, they don’t “put aside” their differences in what each believes to be an effective strategy. I’m also sure that if one infantryman has reason to believe he and and the rest of his squad are walking into an ambush, he doesn’t “put that aside” and keep walking.
Yes, definitely the issue is way more complex than my brief comments would allow. But I thought my post was already getting too long! I hope it was not misleading as it stands, though. The extent to which a soldier should just “take orders” from his superiors–or even the extent to which a general or other higher ranking military official should challenge the civilian leadership, is a complex issue. In my post, I had in mind lower ranking members of the armed forces, who usually aren’t setting policies, vs. legislators who typically do set policies all day long. Off hand, though, I agree with the implications of both examples you give in your last paragraph.
Thanks for reading and for contributing!
Well done Amy!
Neither the employed nor the unemployed pay for the unemployment benefits with their tax dollars. Unemployment insurance is paid for by employers. Doesn’t anyone at the White House know that?
Well, Jeff, that is not entirely accurate: these Obama unemployment benefits are going to be payed for not by employers now but by the future employers who are currently in kindergarten (and their great-grandchildren). I can’t recall who said it but I agree, multigenerational debt is child abuse.
But don’t worry, the Commander in Thief has a special, Keynsian debt-reduction plan:
Good catch, Jeff, as I had forgotten that! But someone who advises Obama and writes his speeches surely should know it. Yikes.
Thanks for sharing that, Deborah! Too funny!
That the White House did not know about Unemployment Insurance is one thing, but no one in the media seems to know either.
Reading this analysis, I can’t help but think that the “Tribal Lone Wolf” has stepped right out of Ayn Rand’s article, “Selfishness Without a Self,” and into the White House. That Obama is just that type of creature has occurred to me more than once, but reading one of his speeches as picked apart in detail by a rational person made the comparison more vivid in my mind.
It is terrible that most Americans cant grasp how stupid, deceiving and nonsens packed that speach is. It is terrible that the cover up’s works. And it is terrible that America which is in such lack of a rational leadership also has a great lack of a rational alternative to it.
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