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Obama Still Confuses Policy With Politics

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

President Obama's last State of the Union address to the nation was filled with regrets and disappointments that he hadn't been able to sell his liberal agenda to the American people.


He came into office hoping to unite the country behind his presidency and policies, but admitted that the country was far more bitterly divided than when he took office.

"It's one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better," he complained.

He rode into office on a hope and a prayer that he would end a steep recession, quickly put the unemployed back to work, end the terrorist war in the Middle East and improve the lives of all Americans.

But the recession persisted, despite a $1 trillion make-work jobs program, patterned after FDR's New Deal plan. The labor force shrank as millions stopped looking for a job, and thus were no longer counted as unemployed -- lowering the jobless rate.

Obama's job approval polls sank, and even today can't break out of the mid-40s range. Economists said it was easily the longest recession and recovery since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

As for the terrorist threat he inherited, it has grown stronger and far more deadly in a blood-soaked rampage across the Middle East, into North Africa, with occasional forays in Europe and, more recently, in the United States.

Obama ran for a second term in 2012 by boasting in every speech that the ranks of al-Qaida's leadership had been "decimated" and the terrorists were "on the run." But he has little to say on why they were now in control of large swaths of territory in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.


The last year of his presidency isn't shaping up to be any better. Economic forecasters say that fourth-quarter GDP growth has fallen into the 1 percent range or lower.

In an ominous sign that the job market was worsening, the Labor Department reported Thursday that 7,000 more Americans filed for weekly unemployment benefit claims for the week ending Jan. 9.

At the same time, the stock market has been falling like a rock, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping by triple digits Wednesday -- down by more than 7 percent since the year began.

"People need something that's going to give them some confidence, and they haven't really seen it so far in 2016," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist for TD Ameritrade.

Confidence has been lacking in this presidency since day one, and it's one of the reasons why the economy hasn't bounced back as it did under Ronald Reagan.

The word that we heard most frequently from business people throughout the Obama years was "uncertainty." That prevented business investors from taking risks to spur faster economic growth, start new enterprises and create new employment opportunities.

But the answer Obama and the Democrats have for just about every economic or social problem is to raise taxes. And that kept risk capital locked up as the U.S. economy languished in what the administration called the "new normal."

The Washington Post said Obama's speech "was primarily a discourse on the state of America's politics, a theme he's hit in virtually all of his past addresses."


"I will not give up on trying to change the tone of our politics," Obama said in his first State of the Union speech. But the issues that Democrats and Republicans have battled over the past seven years are not about politics, but about policy -- what works and what won't.

On economic matters, Reagan and his advisers went back to the 1960s and President Kennedy's across-the-board tax cuts. JFK did not live to see the results of his plan, but it not only got America "moving again" as the economy picked up, it increased revenue to balance the budget by the end of that decade.

The fiery tax-cut debate in Congress was hot and heavy as Democrats accused Reagan of enriching his friends on Wall Street and in Hollywood.

"What we have today is a government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich," said former Vice President Walter Mondale. "... (President Reagan) gave each of his rich friends enough tax relief to buy a Rolls Royce -- and he asked your family to pay for the hubcaps."

However, unlike Obama, Reagan didn't complain about the "political tone" of his opponents, but appealed to what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature."

"An opportunity society awaits us. We need only believe in ourselves and give men and women of faith, courage, and vision the freedom to build it," he said.

Reagan's tax cuts ended Jimmy Carter's recession in two years, unemployment fell, his polls shot up, and he went on to beat Walter Mondale in 49 states.


Go back and listen to Obama's address, and you will hear the message of a beaten man, talking about how difficult it was fighting for change, and calling for "a better politics."

"What I'm asking for is hard," he said. At another point, he wished that if he had the "gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt," he "might have better bridged the (political) divide" that blocked so much of his far-left agenda.

He had hoped he would strengthen his party and open a new, historic era of ultraliberal big government, and, like Reagan, go down in history as a transformative president.

Instead, under his presidency, he lost Democratic control of the House and Senate, and the bulk of the nation's governorships and state legislatures.

The rough-and-tumble of American politics has always been a critical characteristic of our government, by which free Americans have given voice to their grievances.

In little more than a year, Obama will be out of office, a historic figure in his own right as the first black president, but who has learned the hard way that America still remains a center-right country.

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