President Obama delivered his third, and hopefully final, State of the Union Address tonight in the House of Representatives. It was a laundry list of minor programs and legislative tweaks, with plenty of conspicuous campaign rhetoric mixed in. The president strained to sound peppy and upbeat, painting a rosy national picture that the 16 percent of Americans who are unemployed, underemployed, or have ceased even looking for a job likely found unrecognizable. On the areas that still require improvement (namely, everything), he urged Congress to work together to pass -- surprise -- his agenda. Unity, interestingly, was a major theme throughout the address. He called on Washington to lower the "temperature" of its discourse -- just a few months after the man over his right shoulder explicitly said that Republicans were aiding and abetting "rape and murder" by opposing an unpaid-for second stimulus, and weeks after his hand-picked DNC Chair suggested that Tea Party rhetoric contributed to the Tucson shooting.
The speech began and ended with a deserved salute to American troops, during which the Commander-In-Chief repeatedly reminded the American people that he ended the war in Iraq and ordered the Bin Laden raid (*spike*). He also suggested that Congress should emulate SEAL Team Six's example and act as a single unit working toward a common end. This pablum might sound pleasant, but it's unrealistic and undemocratic. A free, individual-oriented society does not act as one monolithic beast, and Congress is not a military outfit that carries out a commander's orders.
Say what you will about the president, he has no compunction about doubling down on failure. It'd almost be impressive if it weren't so harmful. For instance, Obama called for much more "green energy" spending, which he claimed would add hundreds of thousands of jobs to US payrolls. He ignored all evidence that this boondoggle has already proven to be a huge failure on several fronts. On infrastructure, he again claimed that "crumbling" bridges and highways could provide shovel-ready (he strangely avoided that specific term) public works projects to create jobs. It's almost as if 2009's unpaid-for $825 Billion failed stimulus never even happened. One thing he didn't trumpet too loudly? His signature "accomplishment," Obamacare, which earned about ten seconds of talk time. Very revealing.
It was only a matter of time before Obama scratched his "fairness" itch, which he did mid-speech. It was one of the few instances in which he seemed genuinely interested in his own words. He deeply believes this stuff. The president boiled the issue to down to one humongous "false choice," as he's fond of saying:
Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else – like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans? Because if we’re serious about paying down our debt, we can’t do both.
Ah yes. We must choose between tax cuts for the rich *or* everything else. Here's a news flash: If "were serious about paying down the debt," raising taxes on job creators and wealthy Americans won't even make a dent. Over to you, Paul Ryan:
Let’s say we took all the income from those the President calls “rich”—those making $250,000 or more. A 100 percent tax rate on their total annual income would only fund the government for six months. Just six months! What about some of the other tax hikes the President likes to talk about? Under the President’s policies, deficits are set to rise by a whopping $9.5 trillion over the next 10 years.
Even if we confiscated every dollar of income from all of the "richest" among us, we wouldn't pay down this year's deficit. Revenue is not the problem. Spending is. And as Ryan's quote demonstrates, Obama's spending programs would inflate the debt (about which he wants to "get serious," mind you) by over $9 Trillion in ten years. And so it was all night long. Nibbling around the edges, blaming others for his problems, and ducking real issues. He decried Washington's brokenness, but never mentioned his own party's epic budget failures. But there was some good news: He slammed "obstructionism," and pledged to do everything within his power (and more!) to bypass the divided government for which the American people voted in 2010. To underscore this point, he rubbed the GOP's noses in an unconstitutional "recess" appointment he made earlier this month. Unity!
In sum, tonight was a preview of candidate Obama's 2012 stump speech. Lackluster, deceptive, and divisive. It's going to be a nasty battle ahead. I'll leave you with a vast improvement over this president's speech: Gov. Mitch Daniels' response. Rebuttals to such grand spectacles are often doomed to failure, but Daniels struck a measured and serious tone and tackled big, tough issues. It was sufficiently respectful, but was packed with sharp, important contrasts. Daniels is a bit wonky and dry for some people's tastes, but he hits a homerun here. Take notes, GOP presidential candidates: