President Obama spoke earlier at Westminster Hall, London, addressing both houses of UK’s Parliament, and delivering a speech I liked quite a bit. There was one part, in particular, that stuck with me afterwards.
“Adam Smith’s central insight remains true today: There is no greater generator of wealth and innovation than a system of free enterprise that unleashes the full potential of individual men and women…. In other words, we live in a global economy that is largely of our own making. And today, the competition for the best jobs and industries favors countries that are free-thinking and forward-looking; countries with the most creative and innovative and entrepreneurial citizens.
“That gives nations like the United States and the United Kingdom an inherent advantage…. We educate our citizens and train our workers in the best colleges and universities on Earth. But to maintain this advantage in a world that’s more competitive than ever, we will have to redouble our investments in science and engineering, and renew our national commitments to educating our workforces.
“We’ve also been reminded in the last few years that markets can sometimes fail. In the last century, both our nations put in place regulatory frameworks to deal with such market failures — safeguards to protect the banking system after the Great Depression, for example; regulations that were established to prevent the pollution of our air and water during the 1970s.
“But in today’s economy, such threats of market failure can no longer be contained within the borders of any one country. Market failures can go global, and go viral, and demand international responses.
“A financial crisis that began on Wall Street infected nearly every continent, which is why we must keep working through forums like the G20 to put in place global rules of the road to prevent future excesses and abuse. No country can hide from the dangers of carbon pollution, which is why we must build on what was achieved at Copenhagen and Cancun to leave our children a planet that is safer and cleaner.
“Moreover, even when the free market works as it should, both our countries recognize that no matter how responsibly we live in our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff may strike any one of us. And so part of our common tradition has expressed itself in a conviction that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security — health care if you get sick, unemployment insurance if you lose your job, a dignified retirement after a lifetime of hard work. That commitment to our citizens has also been the reason for our leadership in the world.”
Watching this today, it occurred to me that the president (a) was correct; (b) presented a progressive vision of government as if it were just common sense, which appeals to me; and (c) articulated a worldview that American conservatives consider wholly ridiculous.
It’s key to global competitiveness, Obama said, to educate the citizenry. Republicans respond by pushing cuts in funding for education at every level.
To protect against crashes, Obama said, regulatory frameworks should be put in place to prevent market failures. Republicans respond by trying to gut and/or remove such safeguards.
Carbon pollution represents a global threat, Obama said. Republicans respond by arguing that climate change is a myth that’s best left ignored.
A social safety net should provide a basic measure of security for a nation’s citizens, Obama said. Republican respond by arguing that the net is a hammock, and people should fend for themselves.
It got me thinking about what the nation’s most prominent Republican leaders would offer in terms of how to position the United States for the coming generation. As best as I can tell, the GOP vision includes tax cuts, the privatization of all social service programs, and little else.