Opinion: Obama's Flimflam Plan to End Homelessness
In the midst of soaring deficits, a teetering world economy, a failing war in Afghanistan, a catastrophic oil spill, a surging Republican opposition and a chief executive with precipitously plummeting approval ratings, who could report with a straight face on a costly fresh effort that solemnly promises to "wipe out" all "chronic homelessness" by 2015?
Could any sane observer above the age of 14 honestly believe that a new federal program would succeed in achieving that noble goal? Or, even more outlandishly, that the latest bureaucratic prescription would finally succeed in its broader purpose: to "end" homelessness of every sort within 10 years?
In fact, the odd timing of Obama's "end homelessness" initiative raises an uncomfortable question: How is a federal government that has been utterly unable to seal off a single oil well in the Gulf of Mexico supposed to solve an intractable, nationwide, social and psychiatric problem that has foiled governmental authorities at the federal, state and local level for a half century?
Defenders of the administration's arrogant approach would insist that there's no meaningful comparison between federal impotence in the face of the gulf oil slick and the painful predicament of the homeless hordes, since the undersea gusher was properly the responsibility of BP and its associates, not the feds.
But this logic leads to another unanswerable challenge: Since when did the dilemma of homeless citizens in Hoboken and Honolulu become the responsibility of preening panjandrums in Washington, D.C., rather than the local leadership in Hoboken and Honolulu?
In fact, the new federal effort mostly duplicates costly efforts already under way in every corner of the country. According to the advocacy group the National Alliance to End Homelessness, cities and towns have previously launched 234 local plans to "end homelessness," and 84 percent of them include 10-year deadlines -- just like the Obama undertaking.
How is it logical to assume that Washington officials could do a better job clearing destitute transients from the parks and sidewalks of your hometown than could the local armies of social workers, medical care professionals, anti-poverty counselors and law enforcement already working (chances are) on 10-year deadlines?
The reliance on federal power illustrates the twisted thinking that undergirds every aspect of the president's domestic agenda. Would even the glib and accomplished commander in chief be able to explain why acute local troubles -- like homelessness, or the provision of medical care, or struggling schools -- require ministrations and money from far away Washington, instead of the more flexible and accountable efforts of public servants who are closer (in every way) to the pressing problems?
Reflexive liberals might provide the immediate answer that Washington has more money to spend, but in the current context, that claim comes across like a sour joke. If anything, the national authorities have even less financial flexibility than state and local authorities, since most local governments are prohibited by law from operating at a deficit, and Washington has recently accumulated the staggering total of more than $13 trillion in debt.
It's true that the feds can borrow money more readily than local authorities, but the level of indebtedness has already become so perilous that purely fiscal considerations (aside from problems of efficiency and responsiveness) should lead the national authorities to avoid any expensive intrusions in challenges best left to state and local governments.
The sad, shabby truth is that the new homeless initiative, like so many other sweeping federal boondoggles, relies exclusively on the flimflam of preposterous promises.
Dutiful bureaucrats assigned to the "Opening Doors" program can't possibly feel confident they'll end all homelessness by 2020, any more than the operators behind the president's "Race to the Top" campaign can count on reinvigorating a sclerotic national school system, or the federal officials charged with deploying Obamacare can rely on beating state reform efforts in Massachusetts, Oregon and other states, by reaching all the uninsured while lowering costs for everyone.
The messianic visions of the Obama administration stand little chance of success in their announced purposes, but they might still fulfill their primary unacknowledged goal: making national Democrats look good because they're doing something, anything -- no matter how feckless and lame -- to address the concerns of the public.
By federalizing these efforts, however, the liberal agenda only cripples government at every level, pre-empting the proper responsibilities of local leadership and enfeebling federal operations by making the national government an ever more unwieldy, clumsy and unsustainable behemoth.