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On Selling Change When Trust Is Gone

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

Didn't you think the president gave a marvelous State of the Union address? He was so, you know, civil.

Americans may crave civility, but they crave honesty more.

Are you going to argue that he was dishonest?

Not entirely, but certainly insincere. The disconnect between his rhetoric and his actions has produced a deep-running distrust in the voters -- as we saw in November. When (for instance) a philandering drunk of a spouse casts trust away, it's difficult to earn it back.

So you don't think Barack Obama has learned the lesson of the November elections and become a moderate? Following the president's speech, when asked if he had moved to the center, Nancy Pelosi said, "I think that's where he's always been."

Mrs. Pelosi was simply reaffirming her own incoherence. Obama campaigned as a reassuring man of the middle. In his first two years, he performed as an extreme government interventionist.

But in the lame-duck session, he extended the Bush tax cuts, showed himself as business-friendly, and came out for regulatory reform. In a relaxation of his expressed sentiment a year ago, he now is committed to keeping American troops in Afghanistan until 2014. Oh, and he ended the stimulus program.

In the nearly two years before the lame-duck session, during which time Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, he -- let's see: enriched Big Labor with leftover TARP funds, rammed through an $862 billion package intended to stimulate job-growth (on the contrary, 2.1 million non-farm jobs were lost), effectively nationalized Chrysler and General Motors, and socialized American medicine.

Still, in the same period, unemployment soared from 7.8 percent to 9.4 (and almost reached 10), Obama and his Democrats added $3.4 trillion to the deficit, Obama imposed 132 new regulations, and -- with Obamacare -- he signed a measure calling for 16,000 additional IRS agents to compel taxpayer compliance.

But he spoke eloquently and repeatedly of the need for bipartisanship -- as he did again Tuesday night.

Earlier, he also termed Republicans "enemies" and said they would have to "sit in back." Do you call that civil rhetoric or bipartisanship? In urging bipartisanship now, he is (a) asking Republicans to practice what he periodically preached but emphatically failed to practice during his first two years in office. And he is (b) asking a divided Congress to do what a lopsidedly Democratic Congress refused to do.

Yet in his speech --

In his speech, he gave no suggestion he has changed his ideological spots, nor any indication of redeeming a lost public trust. He exhibited no contrition for his first two years of undiluted progressivism. As so often is the case with Barack Obama, the content of his speech fell far short of his reassuring rhetoric.

He supported cutting the corporate tax rate, approving the Colombia free-trade agreement, improving education, simplifying the tax code, and reviewing duplicative regulations. He said he would veto any bill containing earmarks. He advocated changing Obamacare reporting requirements for small businesses.

None of that suggests a transformation into your basic believer in free enterprise and limited government. In his State of the Union, Obama defended expanded government and offered no serious approach to cutting spending. To Obamians, higher taxes and higher spending are simply New Age "investments." These Obamians make their way by taxes, mandates, penalties, and fees -- by force and the bureaucratic hammer. In their lexicon, "invest" is code for "tax and spend."

But as the president said perhaps a dozen times, we need to "win the future."

With the federal debt growing by $54,373 every second, our future is one of swiftly mounting fiscal crisis. Indeed, at such a rate, by the end of Obama's term the national debt will soar another $5 trillion to a level nearly equaling that accumulated by all his presidential predecessors combined.

But he's such a stirring speaker. This, he said, is our "Sputnik moment."

You will remember that Obama has ended -- killed -- the Sputnik-inspired manned space program that John Kennedy got off the ground. Thus the irony of Obama's Sputnik reference.

And he spoke of how enduringly different America is, how exceptional.

You will remember as well that that is a 180-degree departure from his denial of American exceptionalism in his tours of foreign capitals. He cannot at the same time embrace a concept and its opposite.

Unless he has changed. I choose to think we are seeing in him a repositioning -- a grand pivot, as with Napoleon's armies.

The trust is gone. Campaigning as a moderate, behaving as a progressive, reading the November tea leaves and speaking as a moderate again in his State of the Union -- why should we believe him, believe that he has changed? When trust dies, no amount of sincerity can revive it.

Say what you will, in his grand pivot I am convinced Obama is sincere.

George Orwell said political language "is designed to make lies sound truthful...and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." Decades later, what Orwell called "pure wind" we call -- in the example of Barack Obama -- hot air.

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