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Lazy, soft and unimaginative

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President Barack Obama was wrong to say at the Asia-Pacific economic summit that America has gotten “lazy” in the past few decades at attracting foreign investment.

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What he should have said, in light of his administration’s handling of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, is that America has become quite adept at blocking it. To delay the project for more than three years and then, after giving every indication that it would go through, announce the ultimate decision will be kicked past the 2012 election takes hard work and brio.

TransCanada wants to invest $7 billion in building a pipeline across the United States to carry oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast. If we were merely lazy, we’d have accepted the project and the thousands of associated construction jobs long ago. That would be the path of least resistance, not to mention common sense. 

But we refuse to take the easy way out. The bureaucrats produce exhaustive studies. The enviros stage protests. The brightest lights in Hollywood mobilize. The White House calculates its political interest. This churning activity is the necessary predicate to delay and inaction. How thoughtless of President Obama to underestimate the effort expended in rejecting a foreign investment.

The president’s “lazy” comment is one of a series of remarks carrying an undercurrent of disapproval of the country he is so luckless to govern. A few weeks ago, he observed that Americans had gotten “a little soft and we didn’t have the same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades.” At a San Francisco fundraiser, he lamented that “we have lost our ambition, our imagination, and our willingness to do the things that built the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam.” 

Obama is prone to the posture of the dispassionate critic, floating above the foibles of America. It never seems to enter his mind that he might have disappointed us, but he certainly seems to think that we have disappointed him. We’ve been lazy and soft in our practices going back decades, hopeless until the advent of one Barack H. Obama, the would-be Redeemer President frustrated by the recalcitrant national material with which he’s forced to work, Michelangelo with a bum piece of marble.

Heaven knows we have long-festering problems, but the loaded words in Obama’s statements suggest we suffer from a collective lack of elan. If only we were made of sterner stuff; if only we dreamed bigger. It calls to mind Michelle Obama’s admonition prior to the 2008 election that “Barack Obama will require you to work.” She warned us that we would have to tap the deepest reserves of our national character to meet the exalted standards of her husband. 

The distance between President Obama’s self-image and the reality is yawning. Ambition? His heroic stimulus bill funded roadwork to create temporary insta-jobs and subsidized green-energy projects, some of which would have happened anyway. Imagination? He perpetually wants to send federal money to the states to prop up their existing unaffordable structures. Willingness to do the things necessary to build? He can’t even disregard his left on Keystone XL. His National Labor Relations Board is harrying Boeing for the offense of building state-of-the-art aircraft in a nonunionized South Carolina plant.

It’s within the president’s power to do a few major things to make us more competitive. He could cut a deal with Republicans to reform individual and corporate taxes, exchanging lower rates for loophole closings. He could cut a deal restraining entitlements, sending a signal to the markets that Washington can begin to control its budget. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican on the “super committee,” has offered a compromise plan along these lines. The president has shown no interest. He apparently prefers waging a blunt-force campaign against a “do-nothing Congress” and carping about what’s wrong with us.

If this helps him win a second term, he can add poor judgment to his running indictment. 

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