In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama was upbeat and inspiring, particularly if a listener had no prior knowledge of his many speeches that were quite similar but bore no fruit. It almost appeared that he was living in an alternate universe that bore no resemblance to present-day America and the current global stage.
He boasted that the economy was doing very well and that unemployment had been cut in half since he took office. Perhaps someone should educate him about the labor force participation rate, which is at its lowest point in the past 36 years and reflects the number of people who are actually working versus the number of people who are eligible to work. The unemployment rate can easily be manipulated in whichever direction one desires by including and excluding certain groups of people.
He also boasted about the record-high stock market numbers. He failed to indicate that savings accounts and certain types of bonds, which used to be the mechanism whereby average Americans could enhance their net worth over a long period of time, were no longer appealing, and that the stock market was one of the few places where gains could be made. While the stock market has always been particularly relevant to the wealthier members of society, the influx of these smaller investors is further driving the income gap.
He talked about the need to further tax the rich because they are not paying their fair share. He failed to mention that the top 1 percent pays 37 percent of the federal income taxes, while earning 19 percent of the income. Since he is so concerned about fairness, perhaps he should consider a proportional (flat) tax, which hits everyone according to their ability to pay. To make this even more fair, we could eliminate all loopholes.
His claim that we are winning the war against terrorism, even though he failed to mention the name of the radical Islamists who are behind the terror, was almost laughable in light of its rapid growth and spread throughout the world.
He appeared not to recognize that our premature withdrawal of troops from Iraq was a mistake that facilitated the development of the Islamic State. His bravado about chasing the terrorists and eliminating them bears no resemblance to his actual policies and demonstrates his contempt for the intelligence of his audience.
He demonstrated great courage in talking about how the Affordable Care Act is actually resulting in a reduction in health care spending. This may be true on some levels, but the reason for that decreased spending is secondary to the reluctance of people to seek medical care when they have deductibles of thousands of dollars.
I wonder whether he and his team ever considered the fact that we spend $400 billion a year on Medicaid, which covers about 80 million Americans. That’s about $5,000 per enrollee. Many of the concierge practices that target those who are financially well off only cost $2,000 to $3,000 per year. If we spent Medicaid dollars wisely, we could provide excellent care, including catastrophic care, for considerably less money than we are spending now.
The president also made some fantastic comments that served as applause lines regarding energy, education and a few other subjects. The real state of the union is characterized by dishonesty and deception. Instead of pretending that everything is rosy, perhaps it would be wise for the president to replay the part of the speech about bipartisan cooperation and then figure out how his multiple veto threats, failure to communicate and reluctance to seek bipartisan solutions fit the theme of his address.
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Dr. Ben S. Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University and author of the new book, One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future.