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About 15 minutes into Joe Biden’s first major speech as president of the United States, I e-mailed my editors at The Post and said, “I think he’s delivering it beautifully. It’s quiet and intimate and intense.” Forty-five minutes later, I sought to comfort myself by thinking of the comedian Mort Sahl’s comment at the premiere of the director Otto Preminger’s “Exodus” when that endless movie hit three hours and kept going.
“Otto,” Sahl shouted, “let my people go!”
As the proposals kept coming — all the spending Biden wants, all the taxes he wants to raise (only on the rich, of course), all the things he wants to do to affect every conceivable area of the economy and our common life as a nation — what sounded rational at the outset of the speech started seeming a mite delusional.
After a time, one simply lost track of the sheer numbers of government programs Biden wanted to create, fund and add funding to and the kinds of new regulations he said he wanted to impose on private industry.
The answer Biden gave to the question of what to do now that the pandemic is over is: more. We must do more. He praised Congress for supplying $1,400 stimulus checks to 165 million households before making it clear that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
He talked about jobs, jobs, jobs created by government, government, government, through spending, spending, spending. And yet he also declared that “America is on the move again,” and indeed it is.
The key sign is that job creation is through the roof, and the unemployment rate is falling vertiginously on its own. Those numbers would be even better, except that employers are complaining they are finding it hard to hire workers because unemployment benefits supplied by Biden’s coronavirus relief package are so lavish that people don’t have to return to work so quickly.
This is exactly the problem with the kind of unthinkably huge government surge Biden is seeking — he wants to commit this country to more than $4 trillion in new federal largesse on top of the $2 trillion he and his party have already spent.
He is putting the government in competition with the private sector for resources, money and workers — the very competition that threatens an inflationary spiral of a kind we haven’t seen in more than four decades. But don’t worry — these are “once-in-a-lifetime investments,” and government will only “buy American.”
He made a big deal about electric cars and charging stations. But if electric cars are truly viable and represent the future, government need do very little — the profits that can be generated by them will be sought and achieved by the private economy.
How do I know this? In 2007, the oil-extraction approach called “fracking” came online and in just a few years, private interests were building multibillion-dollar shipping systems to export the oil entirely on their own. Liberals hate fracking and don’t want to see it as a model. They love electric cars and want government to make them and subsidize them and control them.
The love of government spending always means that not enough is being done. For example, Biden in his speech basically said we could cure cancer if we just spent more money and created a new division of the National Institutes of Health to come up with innovative new medical stuff.
Well, first, we already spend $6 billion a year on the National Cancer Institute. Since Richard Nixon declared a “war on cancer” in 1971, the NCI has gone through more than $100 billion in taxpayer dollars. At the same time, private interests — primarily pharmaceutical companies — spend billions each year on research and development into cancer treatments.
But to hear Biden tell it, not enough hasn’t been done — when in fact, wondrous advancements have come from this research, among them the understanding that cancer is 100 different diseases, not just one. In that sense, “finding the cure for cancer” is the wrong quest. But it sounds good.
If you were still awake when he said it.
John Podhoretz is editor of Commentary magazine.
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