On January 20, 2015, President Obama entered that House of Representatives and gave his 6th State of the Union Address to the nation. It was the first State of the Union to a Congress controlled by Republicans in both the House and the Senate. It was also the first State of the Union for President Obama as he begins the lame-duck portion of his presidency. The speech reflected all of this.
The President started with several highlights, setting an uplifting tone to his speech. He spoke about a positive economy, energy independence, and a cessation of hostilities overseas. It was quite positive. But it was also the laser point cherry picking of facts as they exist. What was left out was the reality most Americans face every day.
While the Great Recession has finally ended, we still have yet to recover the full measure of jobs. One need only look at the Labor force participation rate to see that. The total number of Americans unemployed and underemployed, as well as those not counted by those categories, total in the tens of millions. Worst of all 158 million Americans find themselves in need of and receiving Government assistance. Economically things are better today than 6 years ago, but they are far from celebratory.
President Obama waxed on about the ends of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A war weary nation is of course happy to see our sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, return from conflicts far from home. But in each case, the speed of retreat exceeded the need for supporting these nacient new governments. The desire to “turn the page” cause a blind eye to the vacuums of power our retreat created, and the emergence of ISIS that appears as predicted. Yes, some conflicts have ended, but the world is no safer for it. Some would even dare say that the world is even more unstable as a cause of our haste to give up and go. But the praise of those that served and gave their all was well deserved and the least that could be done.
At this point, President Obama began his eloquent pitch for social justice and income equality. He talked about the threat of a US presence that is diminished (while ignoring the impact on our allies and the world as America snubbed France), and the division of the American people (that is part and parcel of the election campaigns he had run on since 2007). He then launched into the true example of American diligence, Rebecca and Ben Erler.
President Obama then commented that the US economy is stronger today because of the efforts he spearheaded, and it helped the Erler’s throughout the years. But the failure of the Obama Stimulus (so great that it is no longer spoken about) did near nothing to create jobs to either Erler or the nation. The national debt has soared to heights unheard of, and will surely fall on the backs of both the Erler’s children as well as those across the nation. The lack of stability in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security have only weakened the prospects for future generations. The lack of competitiveness due to the corporate tax rate (the highest in the world) equally falls to the steps not taken by the Obama Administration over the past 6 years.
Still the situation is not all gloom. There has been improvement. It’s just that the case can be well made that America has persevered in spite of the Obama economic plans, not because of them.
But still President Obama pushed. He stood on the shoulders of private industry as he touted the growth of energy independence – spurred by the very industry he sought to curtail. He touted solar energy gains, though the result of all renewable energy in the nation remains negligible. He mentioned the benefit of lower gas prices, that he refused to take the responsibility for when just a year ago the gas prices were hurting the paychecks of consumers. It only counts for the President when it’s good news I suppose.
“So the verdict is clear. Middle-class economics works. “
This stood out. Because the middle class is suffering. Wages have stagnated. The middle class has shrank, just as their savings and investments have done. Taxes, locals and federal, have increased even as the cost of health care has grown – though the rate of health care inflation has diminished as the President mentioned. It’s a careful parsing of words and dancing around the thorns of reality that the President excels at doing.
This of course lead to the scorn of the President. Threats of vetoes, directed at the Republicans that now control the Congress. Without seeing a single legislation on his desk. Without hearing the arguments for and against any proposed Bill. Just a President demanding that what he has done cannot be undone, even if a better solution can be created. No greater example of partisanship could be provided – but there is still far more the President has to say.
“We know that more small business owners plan to raise their employees’ pay than at any time since 2007.”
The key here is the statement not said, that small business owners choose to increase employee pay. Left unsaid was that business owners could afford to increase employee pay. Minimum wage increases forced by State law, the inclusion of mandatory health care coverage in defining what is a workers’ pay, these are not choices. While some pay is increasing because of these things, the rate of new businesses starting has been eclipsed by those closing. The number of self-employed, one of the key engines of American prosperity, is lower today than at almost any point in the past 6 years, and trending lower.
But maybe that is the purpose of President Obama’s plan. Because then everyone is “doing their fair share.” Words more akin to Marx than Jefferson.
Words that belie the intrinsic capabilities some have, and have exploited for success. That’s why there is a Warren Buffett, an Oprah Winfrey, a Bill Gates. Because some worked harder, were better, more persistent than their peers. The capitalist economy of America rewarded them as it will others that excel. Because ultimately, ordinary effort only receives ordinary rewards. Except when President Obama wants to make a point.
But the speech had moved on to its Robin Hood section. Paid sick days, education, equal pay for women, and minimum wage. Essential requirements for the nation, according to President Obama. Yet not one of these things were even discussed when Democrats had a supermajority and free reign to pass anything they wished. It’s not to say that some of these ideas can’t be done, but let’s not pretend that President Obama had them in such high regard before Republicans gained control.
Moving on President Obama pressed the Robin Hood theme. Community college for free. A sales pitch eerily like that of Obamacare. Someone else will pay for it, so it’s free. The middle class suffers, as death taxes and capital gains taxes eat away at the fringes of their upward mobility. Which says nothing of the growing, near desperate need for vocational workers that President Obama has all but forgotten.
Of Course no State of the Union from President Obama could ever be complete without a discussion of infrastructure. Not the “shovel-ready” jobs of 2009, but Middle Class Economics now. A new plan, to have the Government spend more taxpayer funds to create jobs and build a high-speed rail (which has languished in creation for as long as President Obama has been in office), and roads and bridges. A plan that we all have heard before, but in a new package and sold by President Obama as Robin Hood. Because this too will be free – for some people (unlikely those in the middle class).
But it’s not all carefully worded stats, repackaged ideas, and a slick salesman’s pitch. Bring back jobs from overseas is essential (though lowering corporate taxes seems the fastest and most immediate why to do so). Allowing the next generation to innovate, via the internet or any medium is worthwhile. Fighting disease and illness, reaching for Mars and beyond are commendable goals. Some things are worth the money we spend on them. These things need even more money to be spent on. Too bad that is not the emphasis but the flavoring of the speech.
By and by, this led us to the military and international policy. An issue that has been proven again and again to be a systemic problem for President Obama. The message though was once again an America that is a strong diplomat as well as a strong fighter. The emphasis being on diplomacy, with the speech ignoring the repeated failures of diplomacy at the hands of the Obama Administration.
But the State of the Union was not just bluster about a timid military. The not subtle reminder that President Obama will use force (via drones) unilaterally and at will needed to be said for all the terrorists in the world. Yet it was matched by the woeful admission that the response to ISIS is underway, with the feeble results it has garnered in half a year (not even Democrats were willing to applaud this fact). It was only the eloquence of the wording, and the request for support from Congress that saved the President from visible groans in this part of the speech. This was especially evident as President Obama chewed through his words as he noted how America did the “hard work on sanctions” as Russia pressured the Ukraine.
The script writer for the State of the Union had to know that this would be one of the hardest parts of the speech to sell. He had to know that the President would lose Democrats, and obviously Republicans, as he floated the vision of success in regard to Russia and ISIS past congress members that know all too well the lead balloon in their presence. So the Democrat pleasing news of the one nation that demonstrably improved relations with America was brought up – Cuba. To the writers credit, it did work (except for VP Biden who failed to clap).
Somehow this lead to another stick to be jabbed. Not at Iran, and the discussion of nuclear prospects in that nation, but to Republicans. Another threat of a veto, to prevent the very type of sanctions the President just stated were effective in Russia (and denounced as ineffective against Cuba) from being used against Iran. Immediately the President moved on to a separate issue of cyber security, where the hope of more support loomed.
With moderate show of support, the President then segued daftly into Ebola. Trumpeting the efforts done so far, the President requested support to fight pandemics before a sentence on Asia. And then it was time to discuss climate change. Another old target, poised upon the tenuous (and proven incorrect) premise that 2014 was the hottest year on record. A subject that failed to excite any beyond the base of far-left Liberals, and long since defeated by the reality that ice remains at the poles even as the very best calculations say they must be gone by now. But that (and the lukewarm response of Democrats) did not stop the President from daring Republicans to remove or dismantle the expenditures and hardships that the Obama Administration has put in place for their unproven noble cause.
On the bandwagon of noble causes that President Obama insists came a saber rattling of just causes and groups. Key sectors responsible for his re-election and critical for the prospects of any Democrat that seeks to take Obama’s place. Gays, women, minorities, Muslims, closing Guantanamo Bay. Just enough to ensure that when the coffers are put out for donations, these groups can be reminded that they have not been forgotten by Democrats and the President.
But as the president approached the end of his speech, he took on the notion of partisanship and gridlock. He insisted that “together we can do great things.” Words that seem to have forgotten his repeated threats of veto, and demands that his will be unquestioned by the Republican Congress. In fact, he pressed the issue that America expects better out of Congress and Government. That the hopes of Americans for a unified and effective government can be achieved. Comments that completely ignored a full third of the speech he had just given.
In conclusion, President Obama proved that he is a great orator. He proved that no matter how old the concept (tax and spend, rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs, global warming, redistributing wealth) he can spin it in a fresh and populist way. He has the unique ability to contradict his own words in the same speech, and yet let those who don’t pay attention to the details feel as if he spoke clearly and directly.