The Dysfunctional State of the Union

The President presented what he felt were solutions to many of the nation's problems in his State of the Union address last night. Webster defines a solution as "something that is used or done to deal with and end a problem." Based on this definition, the President presented some pleasant-sounding ideas that bordered on being pipedreams, but they did not meet the definition of a solution.

This assessment doesn't just refer to the fact that there was no clear idea of how to pay for everything. It also encompasses the failure to think through the implications of some of the President's ideas.

Take, for example, the idea of free community college for everyone who graduates high school with a 2.5 index or higher, which is the putative standard even though it wasn't mentioned last night. Dick Durbin, the far-left Senator from Illinois and Deputy Minority Leader, recently pointed out on the floor of Senate that many people graduate high school unable to read at a twelfth-grade level. Some of them will have a 2.5 index. Do these people really need college? What about a great trade school? What about an apprenticeship like the ones used routinely in small and midsize businesses in Germany that have made that country a paradigm of entrepreneurship?

Let's lump the idea of free community college together with reduction in college debt. The idea is to help people enter the workplace without a crushing debt burden. If we are providing the money, should we have any say over the course of study? What is the connection between a free education and becoming productive? Do we equally subsidize budding accountants and people who want to be experts in Egyptology or French literature? Which degrees are necessary for society, and which are luxuries?

What about childcare? At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, I think the idea of free childcare is great, but for how many children? I live in New Jersey, where a black state legislator (a white state senator couldn't have done it) pushed a cutoff for child welfare benefits after the second child. It had a considerable impact on the number of poor children born in the state.
The President thinks he will raise every penny he needs by taxing the wealthy. We already know that what the President and Vice President have defined as wealthy has no connection to reality in places like Bergen County, New Jersey, where homes routinely cost four and five times as much as in the South, and property taxes are well into five figures. People earning $250,000 a year where I live limit the number of children they have. They will not benefit from any government program. They will often pay full freight for college educations. Just how much additional income tax will you expect them to pay for just how much childcare? Will free childcare loosen the constraint on having kids? How sympathetic do they need to be for people who give no thought to how to afford the children they have?

If these arguments sound simplistic, they are no more so than the idea that college is free because one says it is. Let's face it. Whatever the Congressional Budget Office estimates is the cost of any of the long-term programs the President suggested, the overruns will be measured in multiples, not percentages. Soaking the more successful members of society will never provide sufficient tax money to offset what are sure to become progressively more bloated government giveaways.

Our biggest problem is the lack of dialogue among the political factions in this country. The Democrats will want free college and amnesty for illegal immigrants. The Republicans will veto the idea of free college and want to deport every illegal immigrant. There are numerous solutions between those choices that will never get a proper airing.

Take the college thing. Here are a few thoughts. Restrict free school to either people with a 3.3 index, or the top 20 percent of graduates from accredited high schools. Give everyone else a shot at a free trade school or apprenticeship. Help those people who simply need help with their debt loads through government grants. Make all these people give something back through national service, during which time they draw a decent salary. Promise the trade school people licenses when they finish their programs satisfactorily. For those who don't want or qualify for either college or trade school, provide workfare at a reasonable salary.

Every problem can be approached with a view toward constructive solutions. By the way, that includes reassessing the incredible waste that is an ongoing problem at the Department of Defense, and which I have seen with my own eyes.

"Free" is great, but we all know there is no "free," don't we?