The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Out of Africa

President Obama gave the first brutally honest, on-target speech of his Presidency yesterday, and for that he should be applauded.

Unfortunately, the speech was not directed at American citizens, but at an audience in Accra, Ghana. The topic was not about the troubles with the US economy and realistic ways to address them, it was not about energy policy and brutally honest approaches that will make America energy independent, it was not about health care and a realistic approach to a medical system that serves 90 percent of our populace by providing the best, most accessible medical care in the world.

Instead, and appropriately, it was about Africa.

The West has poured well over a trillion dollars (there was a time when that was considered a lot of money) into Africa over the past four decades. Yet the continent continues to struggle. Corruption, violence, nepotism, disease, poor education, tribalism are endemic.

President Obama began with a simple well-stated truth: “We must start from the simple premise that Africa's future is up to Africans.”

But he went much further, confronting the postmodern notion that the West alone is somehow responsible for the continent’s problems:
Now, it's easy to point fingers and to pin the blame of these problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense helped to breed conflict. The West has often approached Africa as a patron or a source of resources rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father's life, it was partly tribalism and patronage and nepotism in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is still a daily fact of life for far too many.

It was an honest and inspirational speech. I can only hope that Africa’s people and leaders were listening. But I won’t hold my breath.

I only wish that the President would be equally honest with the American people and state a number of simple truths:

  1. Government cannot and will not solve all of their their problems. Big, unrestained government is like a hemorrhagic virus that will slowly bleed the life blood out of our country.

  2. National indebtedness on a scale unimagined only a few years ago will be a burden that Obama’s strongest constituency (young people) will have to bear over the rest of their and their children’s lives. Wishful thinking and naive projections will not reduce the deficit - but spending cuts just might.

  3. Energy independence is about addressing targeted inefficiencies, improving infrastructure, and encouraging entrepreneurship—NOT a ridiculous cap and trade scheme that will have a deleterious effect on an already weakened economy.

  4. Medical care in the USA is NOT in crisis. Do changes have to be made? Yes. But they should be small and well-targeted. Heavy government intervention into a system that is expensive, but not broken (according to 73 percent of the public when asked about their own health care regime), is both ill-advised and irresponsible.

  5. The “rich” cannot pay for everyone else. First, it’s dishonest to say that they can—there simply isn’t enough tax revenue no matter what the rate. Second, it’s very bad tax policy and very dangerous for the country. When 10 percent contribute 70 percent of income tax revenues and close to 50 percent pay none, something is wrong.

We need Africa-like speeches on each of these topics—factually based, stating hard truths that some of the President’s constituency might not want to hear. I can only hope that Barack Obama decides to give these speeches. But I won’t hold my breath.