The state of the Union may vary from time to time -- good, bad, fair to middlin', even perilous -- but on this, his sixth State of the Union address, the chief executive's view of it remains remarkably the same as it was on his first: detached. Mainly from reality. As if he were an observer from another plane of existence: his own. Circumstances may change, crises may come and go, pressures ease or increase on the nation that is still the world's last best hope no matter its current tribulations -- a shining city on a hill. But whatever changes, this president's policies never seem to. Why change now? The "shadow of crisis," he assures us, has passed.
No matter what the state of the economy, our president has one course to recommend: Spend more. And add ever more beneficiaries to the ever growing list of those dependent on his (and the American taxpayers') largesse. The more dependents the better. If not better for them, then for him. Tuesday night, it was "free" college tuition, daycare, paid leave ... the whole, always expanding list.
No need to go into detail about just who is to pay for all these "free" programs, but you can guess. Just look at your pay slip -- if you still have a job, even a part-time one. Never mind. All those filthy-rich capitalists in top hats will pick up the bill just as soon as we tweak the tax brackets a little more, this time by raising taxes on capital gains, death, firms that buy and sell stocks and bonds.... You name it, this president's ready to tax it. Harry Hopkins had the formula down pat back when the New Deal was still new: "We will spend and spend, and tax and tax, and elect and elect." Then repeat.
There, all that should certainly encourage investment, employment, and prosperity in general. All in the name of the middle class, of course, which B. Obama seems to consider a tax bracket, not a state of mind emphasizing prudence, self-reliance, saving, salvation by work as well as grace ... a whole worldview perhaps best summed up as Puritan in honor of what surely must still be the most powerful influence in shaping what the American ethic has come to be.
Instead, our president lives in a great dream palace, his innocence never corrupted by workaday considerations like reality, or even Economics 101. That sort of thing is for those of us who have to live in the real world rather than his. But never fear. The "shadow of crisis" has safely passed and all is coming up roses, or at least more government programs. Which will certainly mean full employment, at least for government bureaucrats.
The president's course in foreign affairs remains remarkably the same, too: Retreat. Only call it Reset. Or whatever today's current synonym for appeasement may be among the foreign-policy elite. Co-existence? Detente? Negotiation? Take your pick, for there are so many crises, and so many rationalizations for withdrawing from the world. Check out a map. Is there anywhere that has seen American influence grow during this president's tenure? Instead it has diminished, sometimes to the vanishing point.
Europe's still free countries shudder at the encroaching shadow of Russian threats, annexations and never quenched ambitions. The Middle East remains the Middle East, only even more dangerous. Even while this president warns against "the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism," still unable to bring himself to be more specific, not daring to speak the enemy's full name: Islamic terrorism.
That presidential evasion brings back his administration's tactful substitute for the previous one's War on Terror: overseas contingency operations. Whatever the latest incarnation of this same, murderous threat is called, even this president feels he must seek a new authorization from Congress to combat it. When he feels obliged to mention it at all. (Did he even mention Yemen in his speech Tuesday
night?) As for Iran, a modus vivendi is being worked out: The mullahs in Teheran will pretend to negotiate how fast they'll be allowed to develop nukes, and we'll pretend to be stopping them.
Never fear. The "shadow of crisis," the president assures us, has passed.
How put this? As directly as possible, as truths should always be faced, uncomfortable as they may be. For free countries and free peoples, the shadow of crisis never passes. It may retreat or advance, but freedom itself is a continuing challenge, crisis, adventure, danger. And anyone who claims the shadows that will always hover over it have safely passed risks only deepening them. And sudden surprises. Everything was bright and sunny January 20, 2015, our president assured us. Yes, just like December 6, 1941, and September 10, 2001. And then ... surprise. History was not over after all.
This president doesn't need any more commentators to dwell on his myopia. He's got critics galore to pick apart every proposal, every paragraph, every evasion and euphemism of his latest State of the Union, which could have been ghostwritten by any Pollyanna or Pangloss lost in a smiling flip world of their own imagining. (Give 'em a Happy Ending any time!) The new senator from Iowa who gave the Republican rebuttal Tuesday night was quite enough all alone to let whoever was still listening by then see through our leader's roseate view of affairs foreign and domestic -- while demonstrating that Republicans can have populist appeal, too.
Speaking of Ronald Reagan, a president who embodied populist appeal, each State of the Union is enough to bring back old ones good and bad and in-between, memorable and not so. Mr. Reagan's were always cheerful, even a bit demagogic, yet somehow realistic. Jimmy Carter's, like his presidency, were usually disastrous. Bill Clinton, rebuked by a disgusted electorate in his first midterm election, learned from it, grew flexible, and entered the most fruitful period of his presidency as he worked with his opposition instead of against it and the world as it is.
This president dreams on, speaking of his "vision" while showing only a simulacrum of it -- submitting a laundry list of wants instead of calling for a return to reality. It was hard, as he went on delivering a long speech that seemed much longer, not to be depressed at the end. But, lest we forget, that is not the American way. Keep the good thought: 2016 is coming, and after that, to use a Reaganesque and therefore very American phrase, a New Beginning.