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In 1987 during the depths of the 1980s Texas real estate crash my wife and I were at a cocktail party at which we ran into a couple we knew casually. As frequently happens at such affairs, the men talked with one another in one huddle while the women talked in another.
The husband in this couple, I’ll call him Jim, was a mid-sized real estate developer and while the run up in Dallas area real estate had been more than good to him, the bursting of the bubble had been especially cruel.
In the conversation among the men, he made no bones about the fact that he was, for all intents and purposes, broke.
But across the room, as I later learned from my wife, Sally (which is what I’ll call Jim’s wife) was painting an entirely different picture. She was regaling her audience with her plans to completely redo the backyard of their already lovely home by, among other things, adding a pool house that would also serve as a guest quarters complete with kitchen and full bath facilities.
The contrast couldn’t have been more stark. To hear Jim tell it, he was having to take cash advances on credit cards just to keep the lights turned on while to hear Sally tell it, their very pleasant lifestyle was completely unscathed by the vicious crash of real estate prices that was bankrupting developers left and right while laying waste to the Texas banking industry.
As you might guess, Jim and Sally’s marriage did not survive. I’m not their minister but I can’t help but believe that one factor in their divorce, aside from the obvious stresses attendant to going bankrupt, was Sally’s apparent unwillingness or inability to accept the reality of their financial situation
I was reminded of Jim and Sally, but mostly Sally, as I watched the video of President Obama’s State of the Union message from Tuesday night. (editor’s note: I was hosting an event while the speech was being given live. I watched it after the fact on the White House website.)
Like Sally and her pool house, the president gave little evidence that he appreciates the severity of the country’s financial situation. It is not a stretch to say that the country faces its greatest crisis since World War II or even the Civil War.
And yet the president stood and said, with a straight face, that Social Security will be made solvent again without anyone having to suffer any delay or reduction in benefits; that the deficit will be addressed by freezing spending at current levels, apparently forgetting that at current levels we’re borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend; that we can somehow afford to build high speed passenger railroads covering 80% of the population; and that 80 percent of the electricity that is currently being generated at coal or natural gas-fired plants will, as a result of government “investment,” be replaced in 25 years with electricity generated by some as yet unnamed “clean energy source.”
No one actually believed that Sally was going to get her pool house but she didn’t hurt anyone by prattling on about it at a cocktail party.
The same cannot be said for President Obama and his speech Tuesday night.
The disconnect between reality and the president’s rhetoric is disturbing. Like Sally and her pool house, the president chirped about bullet trains and “investment” in mythical, magical “clean electricity’ that almost no one believes will ever actually happen.
Poor Sally may have simply been in denial. Is the president?
As Congressman Paul Ryan said in the Republican response, there’s still time to fix our finances – but not much.
More than anything else, the American people must know that the man whose job it is to lead in a time of crisis is capable of understanding that there is a crisis in the first place.
Nothing about the president’s speech on Tuesday gave me that impression.
Am I the only one who’s bothered by that?