Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

Less government and shorter speeches, please


Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Jan 27, 2011; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A

Less government and shorter speeches, please
Nobody sounds good reading a list of government programs

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

As I sit here writing this, the president of the United States is preparing to give an address to Congress on the State of the Union. President Barack Obama’s speech has already been leaked out onto the Internet and it’s long – really long. Well over an hour long.

The speech is 6,800 words. To put that in perspective, this column is usually less than 700 words. Longer than that and I have to warn the editors ahead of time, “incoming!”

Remember in the 1980s when it was said that if a nuclear war occurred, the living would envy the dead? How many Cabinet members envied Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who was kept in an “undisclosed location” in case the unthinkable happened during the speech? Not only did he get to catch up on his TiVo, there was a chance he could be president. Salazar probably finished reading “War and Peace” while waiting for Obama’s speech to end.

The president’s speech was six times longer than the entire funeral oration by Mark Antony. Antony at least had the decency to wait until the end of his speech before giving away money that wasn’t his.

When Obama was a candidate, we were sold a story of a great public speaker. That story gave way to jokes about the teleprompter-in-chief, especially after his staff thought it was necessary to send Obama out to make another speech every time his poll ratings slipped a notch.

I don’t know if you noticed, but Obama’s ratings have slipped quite a bit the last two years.

The president is out there making as many speeches he can to a populace that grew tired of his charms, which begs a question. The president said shortly after the November election debacle that it was a failure of communication that caused his party to lose so badly. If the president is supposed to be such a good communicator, and if the answer to every lingering public doubt is another public speech, does last November’s election mean Obama is a failure?

Unfortunately for us, the president is required to give an annual report to the Congress on the state of the union. Time for another speech.

Actually, it doesn’t have to be time for another speech. Until President Woodrow Wilson, presidents traditionally sent a letter to Congress. Had the tradition continued through Calvin Coolidge, I’d like to think that he would have just sent over the federal checkbook, all neatly balanced, with a note: “Don’t touch.”

It is probably not a coincidence that progressive Democrat Wilson saw the need to give the address in person while progressive Democrat Obama sees the need to make it longer than one of Fidel Castro’s greatest hits. When you believe that government should be reaching into every aspect of people’s lives, there is a lot to catalog.

So we get the endless string of government programs and how much they will spend and who it will help and why it is important. We see people in the balcony and we’re told their life stories and how each government program is going to help them.

Soon we become like Winston Smith’s friends in Orwell’s “1984” and we can’t remember what the chocolate ration was last year but we know the Ministry of Plenty is going to exceed the chocolate production goal this year. Oh, would you mind passing the gin?

President Obama may still be a great orator, but who can tell what great things he might say underneath all of that government program clutter? One more not-quite-coincidental point, it can’t be an accident that the best speech President Obama has given in three years was the speech at the memorial for the victims of the Tucson mass shooting. It’s probably because he wasn’t talking about the government giving anything away.

Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan gave the Republican response to the State of the Union speech. It was less than 1,700 words and a little more than 10 minutes. Granted, responses by the opposition party traditionally are much shorter than the speech by the president. However, it’s probably easier to keep your remarks brief when the goal of the speech is stop the federal spending spree, rather than announcing more spending.

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