The Rosett Report

State of the Future

“He sought to sway his audience with rhetoric rather than specifics,” reports the Washington Post, trying to piece together what went on in the State of the Union address Tuesday evening.

I haven’t been drunk-blogging with the marvelous Vodkapundit (wish I had!), but I came away from from the evening’s televised exertions feeling dizzy nonetheless. This wasn’t a State of the Union address. It was a State of the Future. Whose future, I don’t know. But what a future it is! We’re way done with “Change is us” and “Yes we can.” We’ve left behind the era of shovel-ready jobs, which apparently didn’t do much for the infrastructure, because our country is now full of crumbling roads and bridges, and our infrastructure has been given a “D.” So we are going to redouble our efforts, and this time our government will “create jobs”(or save jobs?) that please the economy, and not the politicians. Because in the future, the government always does a better job of creating jobs than it did yesterday.

I’m sure the speech bears serious analysis, and will get plenty of it. But for tonight, forgive me — it’s been a long day. If I close my eyes and ask what the president outlined this evening, I get visions of 100,000 new (and unionized) engineering and science teachers criss-crossing rural America in windmill-powered, solar-paneled high-speed trains —  questing after the three doctors who will still be in private practice once ObamaCare really takes hold. And then this vision all starts to merge with those giant wall frescoes that sometimes bedecked vast and gloomy Soviet industrial plants, or the dusty Intourist pamphlets one used to find still scattered around unheated Kazakh and Ukrainian guesthouses in the early 1990s —  depicting legions of marching engineers and muscular peasant girls hoisting sickles and sheaves of wheat. On to the radiant future!

And I am confused about what time it is. Two years ago, this was our time, now was our moment. Now, after two years under President Obama, it is no longer our moment, but our “Sputnik moment.” A Sputnik moment is when you suddenly realize your enemy is way out ahead of you. So, when did we fall behind? Does this mean NASA can now forget the Middle East outreach business and carry on sending Americans into space? And why is our government making three-year plans to “double our exports by 2014”? I’m all for trade, but why the targets? Five-year plans, or three-year plans, are for planned economies. Shouldn’t it be the job of a capitalist government to keep the markets free and simply get out of the way and let the market — a.k.a. the choices of private individuals — determine what the volume of exports will be?

But thinking like that , we are now told (with great civility), was all part of the battles of the last two years — the free market versus a state-planned economy — and since the past two years are over, it’s time to forget all that. Especially after state planning won the legislative battles, and the free market then won the 2010 election. And: “At stake right now is not who wins the next election — after all, we just had an election.” At a Sputnik moment, all those distinctions fade away. 2012? What election? We are now at war with Oceania, or the past, or the future, or something like that — and it is time to do big things together. We are going to “Win the Future.” In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, the White Queen called it “jam tomorrow.” I speculate that even among those lawmakers in the chamber who wanted to be in sync with the president, this speech got a little strange.

OK, here’s the good news. I happened to be eating a hot dog this afternoon in the cafeteria of one of the congressional office buildings, and at a nearby table, a young man was telling his dining companion that he had just been reading Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose. I came home and had a look on Amazon — Free to Choose ranks #4,890 on the Amazon sales list. For a book first published in 1980, that’s not bad. Obama’s The Audacity of Hope currently ranks #2,945. I then took a look at F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. Its Amazon sales rank is #324. Whether that portends anything for the future, I don’t know. But it gives me a lot more hope than any amount of presidential talk right now about rebuilding America with cars run on “sunlight and water.”