What a different speech this could have been. And it’s only luck that allowed President Obama’s first State of the Union (although it’s his third speech to a joint session of Congress) to be as boring as it was.
The presentation opened with a series of banalities. “When the Union was turned back at Bull Run, and the Allies first landed at Omaha Beach, victory was very much in doubt,” Obama intoned. “When the market crashed on Black Tuesday, and civil rights marchers were beaten on Bloody Sunday, the future was anything but certain.”
Indeed it was. A pity we cannot say the same thing. America’s future is clear: Unless we start cutting spending and take control of entitlement programs, our children will go broke making good on our promises. As things stand, just three entitlements, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, could amount for the entire federal budget in a few decades. Lawmakers would have to eliminate spending on everything else -- including defense -- or else raise taxes by more than $10,000 per household per year.
Obama could have announced a plan to rein in these entitlements. That would have been a mission worthy of his boilerplate. Instead, he meandered for more than 70 minutes, ending up with a speech that seemed to be mostly about himself. “According to one count, Obama used the words “my” or “mine” 18 times and “I” 88 times, better than once a minute,” reported Andrew Malcolm in the Los Angeles Times.
But let’s face it: the fact that the speech was boring was a positive sign. Obama was more than an hour into it before he mentioned that, “We’ve made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security and swifter action on our intelligence.”
And that may be true, as far as it goes. But the fact is, our country is more than eight years removed from the Sept. 11 attacks, and we were unable to stop Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab. His (yes, we have to say alleged) attack on Christmas Day would have succeeded if he’d, say, stayed in the bathroom and set off his bomb instead of returning to his seat to try to do so.
He wasn’t stopped by “the system” that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano famously claimed had “worked.” It was his fellow passengers who kept him from blowing up a plane and killing hundreds of people. Eight years after we all started removing our shoes at the airport, AbdulMutallab used the explosive PETN, the same substance Richard Reid had used in 2001 in his shoe-bombing attempt.
As with Reid, this latest plot failed because the attacker was incompetent and the other passengers were wary -- not because of any actions the government took.
However, because of President Obama’s policies, AbdulMutallab is being held in a civilian jail, and will receive a trial in a civil court, although he’s arguably an enemy combatant. Obama’s Justice Department also intends to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, in a New York civil courtroom. The State of the Union speech didn’t explain why those decisions have made Americans safer.
This should give us a good sense of perspective.
Throughout his speech, Obama insisted his big-government agenda is helping. “Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed,” he insisted, ignoring the fact that even his administration can’t identify how many jobs its stimulus package has “saved or created.”
He mentioned police officers and teachers who’ve supposedly kept their jobs because of the federal largesse. But he failed to note that, unless the money keeps flowing -- year after year, forever -- those local government employees will just end up being let go eventually. Does anyone believe that their state and local governments ever intend to come up with the cash to pay their salaries?
Obama also pushed for a federal “jobs bill,” stumped for his stalled health “reform” bill, promised a modest spending freeze (although he’ll wait until next year to begin it). But with the federal debt at a record level and unemployment at 10 percent and holding, it’s time to realize the approach pushed by Obama, and -- too often -- President Bush and the pre-2006 Republican Congress, has failed.
The government can never spend its way out of recession. It can only get out of the way, through lower tax rates and less costly regulation, and allow private business to grow again. Likewise, the government can’t completely protect us from our enemies, no matter how many tens of billions it spends. Americans need our president to get serious about our debt and our security -- before our luck runs out.