President Obama’s sixth State of the Union address was not so much the annual report on the state of the union, as required by the U.S. Constitution, but rather a report on what’s going on inside Barack Obama’s head.
And in Barack Obama’s head some of the things that scare the living daylights out of the rest of us are blithely dismissed or not even seen. In two sentences in a longish blog at NRO, Yuval Levin captured what was so remarkable about the SOTU: the unreality.
First, the president didn’t acknowledge that there has been a sea change in the political landscape and that he was addressing the most Republican Congress since 1929. This might mandate a change in the way another president (Bill Clinton, say) approaches his job. Not Obama.Levin wrote:
The most striking thing about President Obama’s State of the Union address was how thoroughly and consciously it was disconnected from the political moment. …
The man who has most authority in U.S. foreign policy also seemed strangely unaware of some–shall we say untoward?–events in the world external to his head:
Then he painted a rosy picture of international affairs on an Earth-like planet that plainly is not this one.
The worldview the president set forth last night was one unruffled by events and eerily similar to the one he sold the nation in the lead-up to the 2012 election: you know, the old al Qaeda is on the run meme. Except that he didn’t mention al Qaeda by name.
Instead he said:
Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over. Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 15,000 remain. …
America, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this:
The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.
ISIS is more than a shadow, and it is growing stronger and more vicious by the day. The president delivered these remarks on the evening of the day on which we learned about a possible coup taking place in Yemen. Richard Engel of NBC, hardly an Obama unfriendly venue, said that the SOTU reflected not the world as it is but the world as the president wants it to be. The danger of having a fantacist president can scarcely be overestimated. I fear for the next two years.
Alan Gross, the American contractor held in Cuba for five years, was a guest of the president last night at the State of the Union address. This blogger is not necessarily against normalizing relations with Cuba, nevertheless the sight of Gross, who made remarks critical of the U.S. almost immediately upon arriving back on our shores, only reminded me of the many more political prisoners rotting in Cuban prisons. We got very little from our negotiations with the Castro regime to re-establish relations. Despite this, President Obama, being President Obama, couldn’t simply say that he had normalized relations with Cuba. He had to take a swipe at the entirety of U.S. Cuba policy before Himself:
When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new.
A Russian spy ship has just docked in Cuba, perhaps timed to thumb its nose at us on the night of the SOTU. Even NBC’s Brian Williams couldn’t help remarking that this provocation is a lot like 1962. (This comment is on the Engel clip linked to above.)
On the domestic front, President Obama touted the recovery, late and weak though it be, and claimed credit. The Associated Press fact checked the president's claim and gave both the economy and the president lower marks than in the self-graded version:
The U.S. may not have "risen from recession" quite as rousingly as President Barack Obama suggested in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night. Seven years after that severe downturn began, household income hasn't recovered and healthy job growth is complicated by the poor quality, and pay, of many of those jobs.
It's always problematic when a president takes credit for an improving economy, just as it is when he's blamed for things going bad. A leader can only do so much, for better or worse, and there are two sides to every economy. But after an election in which Obama largely held off on chest-beating, he claimed credit in bold terms for what is going right.
The Associated Press notes that the president “skimmed over the cost to taxpayers” of his proposal for free community college. The price tag is estimated at $60 billion. I’ve already debunked the notion that this is the best way to help students. Likewise, the president’s advocacy for the middle class, so eagerly voiced last night, has not helped at all. The Robin Hood tax hike he advocated last night will do nothing to help a middle class that would benefit most from a good economy—one that is really good, and not just in Barack Obama’s head. The president is so deluded about this that an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal called his tenure “the gaslight presidency.”
With regard to women, the president is proposing government-mandated paid sick leave—blithely unaware or unconcerned that this might cause companies to hire fewer people—and expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. As Timothy Carney points out in the Examiner, this is quite different from the widely-used child and dependent care tax break. The Obama break is only available if both parents work outside the house.
Carney has a good analysis of the president’s child care proposals and he also finds the values at the heart of the proposals:
One clear message of the president’s tax plan: Moms who stay at home with their children are less valuable than moms who work for pay.
Throughout the SOTU, I kept thinking, “Make it stop.” But maybe this is a turning point. Maybe this SOTU was so bad that, as President Obama might put it, the country is ready to turn the page on this yearly charade. Why not return the SOTU to the written message to Congress that was the SOTU from Thomas Jefferson to Woodrow Wilson?
The theatricality last night was appalling and unworthy of a great nation. I half expected somebody from E! to jump out from behind the statue of General Kirby-Smith in Statuary Hall and ask Senator Mitch McConnell, “Who are you wearing.” Let’s end this empty and dishonest ritual.
President Obama, who came to town as the champion of government, ironically made us doubt government.
Wouldn't it be a further irony if the man hailed as the greatest orator since Pericles is the one who ends this performance-driven SOTU?