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The State of the Union, Some Notes
In Dissent, Number Eighty-Five
by Brian S. Wise
24 January 2003 

Only the hardest of the hardcore political junkies cares much for your average State of the Union address, such is its banality. ("Remember last year when I promised to throw money at your problems until they went away? Sorry that didn't work out, but in the gallery tonight I have a soldier and a single mother of three, whose mere presence should assure you I'm no quitter, and that I'm going to try even harder this year.") Normally, so little of consequence is said, one cannot help but long for the days when the speech was merely delivered to the Capitol and read into the record, minus the grand, money sucking sounds.

Well, well, well ... the administration does occasionally surprise; history and circumstance had positioned President Bush into a nice spot prior to Tuesday night, where there existed the very rare opportunity for the president to not just discuss one, but several very important matters. And in the process of this seriousness, there were only lingering shots of cause-relevant figureheads in the gallery - no formal introductions, no mad props, not even so much as a single shout out. (That last bit was for the kids.) As for the money sucking sounds, it really is true that the modern presidency just cannot leave well enough alone when it comes to any pain and suffering, no matter how far flung or ultimately well deserved.     

President Bush has suggested initiatives hard to argue against; in other worse, hard for Congressional Democrats to defeat, which is why the rhetoric from the Left has focused on the president's Medicare plan, which has neither been written or submitted to Congress, and is therefore functionally impossible to refute, so far. (To the point, the president has been discussing the same plan, in theory only.) But just because some of these things are hard to argue against doesn't mean they make sense, and shouldn't be argued against. More on these some other time.     

Those things most immediately relevant from the speech involve taxation, federal spending and the next war. The war has been dealt with here, and won't be again today. There was no more pleasant sight than Nancy Pelosi shaking her head in disagreement as the president went over the details of his tax plan - who should get how much, which credits should be increased, which future cuts should be moved up to this and next year, and so forth. Goes conservative wisdom: The worth of any idea is measured by the width and depth of liberal dissent, and the accompanying shouting.     

Matters of taxation and federal spending happen to be things worth fighting over. In the Good Old Days, it was enough to say that, philosophically, Democrats were for higher taxes and bigger government while Republicans were for the opposite, but things have changed ... nowadays, even as the tax cut debate continues, the notion of whether or not government should increase in size is irrelevant. The thing is never going to get any smaller, never less intrusive, never any easier to figure out or control, so that is a lost battle. And to prove it, President Bush has announced his intention to raise federal spending by four percent this year, a number roughly in line with the average financial growth of the American family. But four percent to someone who makes, let's just say, $20,000 a year is a little different from an entity that takes in (and spends!) something like $2.1 trillion a year. The difference is, the guy making twenty grand needs the four percent, the feds don't.     

Taxation continues to be debated only because too few people understand it - in any circumstance where rates of taxation are lowered, it's going to be a break for the rich. An illustration: take the salary of the man making $1 million a year and tax it 39 percent, the top rate (this is only federal income tax, saying nothing of the State and local levies); then take someone making, again, $20,000 and tax him at 20 percent. Now cut each man's rate of taxation by three percent; who is to benefit more than the other in terms of dollars returned to him? Right; and if the point is that the rich just shouldn't have their taxes lowered, it's a nonsensical argument. Government has no place at all obstructing the ability of any citizen, regardless of his stature, to save and spend as he sees fit, not only because of the obvious financial benefits to a country who allows its people to do so, but because commerce is better at doing just about anything than the federal government, save waging war.

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