The Right Word
By Kelly Sloan
As pretentiously irrelevant as the State of The Union Address has become in recent times – its main value appearing to be in providing analytical fodder for the likes of… well, me – the annual speech does have a mildly didactic element to it; evaluating the address in its entirety – what was said, how it was said, what was not said – can offer a glimpse into the true visions and priorities of the administration, beyond what was intended.
In Tuesday night’s speech, President Obama was faced with balancing the political need to move to the right, with his innate ideological desire to continue leftward. It was an effort that fell lamentably short.
Many of the elements of the speech designed to appeal to the right – references to American greatness, free markets and the like – appeared to be forced, reactive, and merely included for political expediency. As an acknowledgment of the lesson of last November – the public repudiation of his previously avowed agenda – and a genuine move to the center, it was, predictably, inadequate.
The President mounted a disingenuous defense of his most spectacular failure –the stimulus package – and then launched into a shopping list of even more spending projects, euphemized as “investments”.
The problem is that his investment history has not been good. The return on the Trillion-plus dollar stimulus package – investment if you will – was supposed to be reduced unemployment and resultant economic growth. The reality is an average unemployment rate remaining at around 9.5% nationally; well after the financial crisis has run its course. Not to mention enough debt to keep our great- grandchildren in penury. And the President’s follow up plan? Redouble the effort, effectively throwing good (borrowed) money after bad.
The instances where the President made an attempt to reach out to Republicans in Congress (and the voters who put them there) were, for the most part, plagued by a conspicuous lack of details. For instance, he made some welcome references to simplifying the tax code, and reducing the corporate tax rate, but offered no clue as to what such a tax code would look like – leaving it wide open to a range of options, from an economically sound flat-tax proposal, to an even more confiscatory progressive tax structure without any deductions – nor any hint as to what rate he would consider reducing corporate tax to.
Similarly, his call for a review of government regulations, ostensibly aimed to reduce the burden on the private sector, is laudable. However, by qualifying the proposal by stating that he would “not hesitate to create or enforce commonsense safeguards”, to which he then equated the Consumer Protection Act and Obamacare, he swung wide the gates to interpretation. I venture to predict that Obama’s idea of a “commonsense safeguard” is rather more intrusive than that of most Americans.
This same vagueness was displayed in regards to the deficit, especially entitlement spending, which he danced around in a most Bolshoi-esque manner. Interestingly, after allocating most of the first half of the address to solicitations for further “investment”, he appeared to have suddenly come to the realization that the government spends more than it takes in (!) and that we need to find ways to cut spending (it’s not “investment” when talking about the deficit, you see).
His announcement to freeze domestic spending over the next five years would be fabulous, had he not spent the last two years inflating that spending to previously inconceivable levels. Of course by reiterating, again, the superstition that his health care bill will magically reduce the deficit by spending more, he revealed that he is either quite insincere about reducing spending substantially, or he is incapable of seeing economic reality past the veil of his own rhetoric.
Foreign policy, lamentably, was an afterthought, relegated to a handful of broad platitudes buried near the end of the address.
Overall, the speech revealed a misguided view on the role of government; the belief that government is the source for every solution to what ails society. Obama’s vision of government is that of an almost omnipotent entity that stands ready to inject itself wherever, and whenever, it determines it ought to.
Despite trying to reposition himself to the center, the President's inclination toward expansive government was evident with virtually every sentence, even while attempting to prove otherwise; for instance, while speaking on the need to reduce redundancy among government agencies, he related a mildly amusing story about how the Interior Department was in charge of salmon while they were in fresh water, but the Commerce Department was in charge of them when in salt water. Illustrative as the anecdote may be, it never once occurred to the President to question why, for Pete’s sake, any agency of the United States government was in charge of Salmon.
That, in essence, sums up the President’s State of the Union Address, and the next two years of his Presidency.
This column first appeared in the Grand Junction Free Press, Friday, Jan 28 2010