Following President Clinton’s State of the Union Address, much of the American media lauded the overall excellence of Clinton’s budget proposals. Indeed, Clinton is an impressive speaker. But as has happened so often in his career, his public speaking ability only obscured a message laced with hyperbole and deceit.
One of the most important myths with which Clinton deluded his listeners was that his shrewd use of the budget surplus will save Social Security. What Clinton does not tell us is that what he calls the “surplus” is actually federal revenue from workers’ payroll taxes, which is already a part of Social Security. The “on-budget” figures, as opposed to the “unified” budget that includes the payroll revenues, should remain in deficit for several more years.
Clinton’s budget plan for American workers, thus, amounts to this: “I propose to actually use most of your retirement savings on your retirement.” Regrettably, this is the most intelligent approach one can find on Capitol Hill, the other option being the Republican plan to use the “surplus” to fund tax cuts.
In addition to saving Social Security, Clinton claimed that his budget proposals demonstrate his commitment to education, his “highest priority.” Defense spending, however, is the Administration’s true “highest priority.” Clinton will add $110 billion over the next six years to the Pentagon’s $280 billion budget, not including the $13 billion set aside for the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons program. He justifies this by mentioning the need for wage raises, and the looming threat of chemical destruction that our country must prepare for.
Once again, he refuses to trouble us with meddlesome details; such as, that the bulk of the money will be devoted to arms programs like the inept Ballistic Missile Defense system. Not only does this project breach the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed with Russia, but it also, according to General Hugh Shelton, “won’t produce a product any sooner. . .money will not help solve the engineering and integration challenges that are being faced.”
According to Secretary of Defense William Cohen, and presumably Clinton, these obstacles are frivolous, because “we will just build one [the missile defense system] anyway.”
One of the more openly hypocritical facets of Clinton’s address was his defense of free trade. “We ought to tear down trade barriers, open up markets, and expand trade,” Clinton declared. The Administration enforces this belief with the Super 301 plan, a pro-free trade policy that pursues protectionist countries and threatens them with economic sanctions. Contradicting his love for the free-market, Clinton then warned that if the “sudden surge of steel imports [due to weakened currencies in Japan, Russia, and Brazil] is not reversed, America will respond.” In other words, foreigners will be forced to practice free trade, while America will do so only when it is convenient.
Freedom was a major theme of the State of the Union Address. In discussing this, Clinton mentioned two countries in particular, Cuba and Iraq. Clinton expressed his hope that “Iraq will have a government worthy of its people.” Clinton’s deep compassion for the Iraqi people, however, is inconsistent with his policy of economic warfare, which according to humanitarian groups causes 90,000 Iraqi deaths a year. As for the Cubans, they too will know the “blessings of liberty.” I can only presume Clinton means after he lifts the 37-year trade embargo, designed to devastate Cuba’s population and force the country into submission.
Even more disappointing than Clinton’s address was the media’s benign reaction. Major newspapers such as the New York Times shied away from criticism, while admiring the President’s remarkable “sense of political control.” For opinions writers at the Williams Record, Clinton was a symbol of “shining optimism,” (Dan Elsea ’02, “Today’s Republican Party leaders…”) showing that “he wants to make our lives better.” (Tim Karpoff ’01, “Around the World in77 Minutes”).
Clinton may care somewhat about Americans, but his main objective is his political survival. In order to do so, as shown by his budget proposals, he will satisfy the Pentagon’s demands and protect U.S. corporate interests. But Clinton cannot afford to be so blunt, so he pitches a populist agenda, not knowing if government actually has the funds to carry it out or whether Congress will approve of it. Fortunately for him, the media ignores this, focusing instead on his craftiness.
During the State of the Union Address, President Clinton was under a lot of stress. But our awe of his political skill, or even our distaste for Republican animosity, should not impede a careful analysis of his agenda. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will be able to focus on policies that are truly for the benefit of America and the world.