President Barack Obama, the first American president shaped by the celebratory culture in which every child who plays soccer gets a trophy, and the first whose campaign speeches were his qualification for the office, perhaps should not be blamed for thinking that saying things is tantamount to accomplishing things, and that good intentions are good deeds. So, his presidency is useful after all, because it illustrates the perils of government run by believers in magic words and numbers.
The last progressive president promised Model Cities, with every child enjoying a Head Start en route to enjoying an Upward Bound into a Great Society. Today’s progressive president also uses words — and numbers — magically emancipated from reality.
The magic number 8 percent identified the level above which Obama’s administration said unemployment would not rise, thanks to the 2009 stimulus. Seven dollars is the figure, plucked from the ether, that Obama says will be saved by every dollar spent on “high quality” universal preschool.
Forests continue to be felled to produce the paper on which are printed the continuing studies demonstrating that America, which has more than 2 million miles of natural gas pipelines and about 175,000 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines, would not be menaced by the 1,179 miles of Keystone XL. The new State Department study says construction “would support approximately 42,100 jobs (direct, indirect, and induced).” Obama, of course, has his own number. In a July 24, 2013, interview with the New York Times, he said construction “might create maybe 2,000 jobs.”
The workforce participation rate is at a 36-year low; in the second half of the fifth year of the recovery, a smaller fraction of the population is employed or looking for work than was when the recovery began. Nevertheless, the administration is cheerful about the Congressional Budget Office’s conclusion that the Affordable Care Act will substantially slow the growth of employment and compensation over the next decade.
The decrease is projected to be nearly three times larger than the CBO had previously predicted. The ACA’s insurance subsidies, which decline with rising income and increase with falling income, will cause many people to choose to stop working, or to work less, or to stop looking for work, thereby reducing the number of hours worked by the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time jobs by 2021.
Many of the words and numbers bandied by Obama and his administration may reflect an honest belief that the world is whatever well-intentioned people like them say about it.
Obama’s critics should reconsider their assumption that he is cynical. It is his sincerity that is scary.
George Will writes for the Washington Post.