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Thoughts on Bush's SOTU

I never expected to say this aobut a Bush speech, but I thought it was strongest on economic issues. Social Security was obviously the big topic of the night, and I was encouraged to see Bush begin to decouple private accounts from the system's structural problems. They really are separate issues, and should be treated as such. Bush delivered a brief primer on the problems facing the current system, summarized various proposed remedies, and solicited new ones. Private accounts were then mentioned, not as a cure-all, but as a way to make the program more attractive to young workers.

This is exactly what I've been hoping he'd do. Privatization stands on its own merits -- actually owning the money you contribute, knowing the government can't take it away, and being able to leave it for your family when you're gone. I'm sold already.

Bush also pre-emptively defused some of the most oft-levied criticisms of the idea by stipulating

  • eligible investments would be limited to conservative, highly diversified portfolios comprising both bonds and equities (duh!)
  • limited fees and management costs (easily doable in the age of no-load funds and ETFs)
  • insurance against last-minute market swings for retirees (once again, an issue the market has already solved in a number of savings plans currently available)

and finally, last but not least, that private accounts will be voluntary. No one needs to participate who doesn't wish to. In short, there are no major concerns that cannot be addressed, and I think it's time we began an earnest national debate on the plan, stripped of both crisis-mongering from its proponents and fear-mongering from its detractors.

Tax code simplification sounds attractive as well -- simple, pro-growth, and fair. I'm imagining something like a flat tax with a large standard deduction and a preservation of the home mortgage deduction. A terrific idea, but one that's going to be much tougher to pull off than even Social Security reform. Aligned against Bush on this one will be not only the Democrats, but every tax lawyer, every accountant, and every rich-ass billionaire who doesn't want to part with his own pet loophole. In short, he will be opposed by almost everybody. Ah well, we can always dream, and go down swingin'.

And the economic hits just kept coming! He also promised a federal budget with a subinflationary growth rate, which would eliminate more than 150 wasteful and unnecessary programs. He spoke about it in such specific terms I have to believe he's serious. I would prefer to have seen such a budget four years ago, but better late than never, I suppose. If he does propose such a budget, however, look for his critics who call him a spendthrift now to immediately switch gears and recast him as a penny-grubbing skinflint.

Like I said, there wasn't really much to excite me besides the economic issues. There was the usual pie-in-the-sky stuff (e.g., making cars run off Red Bull, or whatever), the trotting out of the heroes, and all that. He spoke effectively on the war, but some of his lines (e.g., facing the enemy there so we don't have to face him here) are getting a bit shopworn. The biggest disappointment of the evening came with his endorsement of some damn "marriage" amendment to the Constitution. I suppose I'm comforted in the knowledge that it's about as likely to pass as Ashlee Simpson is to win a Grammy, but it's still an ugly bit of pandering that I thought he'd backed off from.

Anyway, I thought it was a nice speech, overall. This was no Clinton-style laundry list of bland, inconsequential half-measures and resume-padders. It was strong on content and specifics, and outlined a bold, meaty (and dare I say "conservative?") agenda for the next four years. I'm cautiously optimistic. Let's hope he follows through.


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» SOTU from The MUSC Tiger
****This is an exceptionally long post, but clicking through the links is well worth it. I promise.**** My Live Blogging: The full text of the speech is right behind this link. The President just heard some serious grumblings from the crowd whe... [Read More]


Well I assumed when you said you weren't gonna live blog, that that meant you weren't gonna blog anything. Dammit. Now I gotta c&p some of your excellent observations into my summary post. You people and your blogs. Making me work too hard!

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