Reflection from the Right: The State of the Union

6 years ago

Clocking in at 62 minutes and 6,802 words, President Obama delivered his second State of the Union (SOTU) speech tonight.

SOTUs are rarely memorable. They're always long. Presidents are expected to lay out their vision for the year. That means covering the economy, education, foreign policy, wars, health care, inspiring tales of small business owners, the American dream, inserting a few jokes, pausing frequently for applause, and addressing any crises currently facing the country.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 25: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) greets Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) (C) as Vice President Joe Biden (L) looks on before Obama addressed a Joint Session of Congress while delivering his State of the Union speech January 25, 2011 in Washington, DC. During his speech Obama was expected to focus on the U.S. economy and increasing education and infrastructure funding while proposing a three-year partial freeze of domestic programs and $78 billion in military spending cuts. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

We all know that President Obama is a brillant speaker. His Tucson speech was excellent. Tonight, he was...flat.

In all fairness, Obama is in a tough spot. He lost one chamber of Congress. He knows that whatever he says will be used against him. Yet, he also knows that political survival requires him to make concessions to Republicans.

If he says too much, Democrats in his own party will rebel. If he says too little, pundits will say he didn't follow the infamous "Clinton pivot."

The past midterm election was a clear mandate: cut spending, reduce regulations and repeal Obamacare. I don't know if Obama actually got the message or if he is just trying to appear that he got the message.

For a speech aiming to inspire, Obama spent a considerable amount of time painting a depressing picture. Obama's use of Sputnik will be one of the biggest takeaways from the speech. He likely inserted it to cast allusions to President John F. Kennedy and cause us to remember a brighter and more hopeful time in our nation's history. He said:

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. In a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology –- an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

Comparing near 10% unemployment -- unemployment that has been sustained longer now than any other period since the Great Depression -- to Sputnik is just a bad comparison.

Lives, families and happiness are at stake. Why compare us to a 60-year-old hunk of metal?

Furthermore, this message was more of the same. Wasn't this what the Stimulus (or officially ARRA) was supposed to do? That money has still not been completely spent and much of it has been wasted.

Why does he continue to push these policies that have failed? R&D is important, but Americans need jobs now. Investing in sectors that require a highly educated workforce won't help the blue-collar families needing factory jobs.

Obama continued to repeat issues that are frankly doomed. High-speed rail and biofuels are just two examples. Ethanol subsidies have directly caused food shortages in developing countries.

I admire President Obama's call to simplify our tax system. However, it came with a stipulation:

So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years -– without adding to our deficit.

How are we supposed to cut taxes without cutting spending to avoid adding to the deficit? How are we supposed to build high-speed trains and get 85% of America on clean energy by 2035 and still cut spending?

Basically, this was a throwaway sentence that sounded good, but provided a caveat for him to veto any bill that cuts corporate taxes.

Then we came to freezing government spending:

So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

This was a shockingly misleading assertion that confused two distinct measurements. The first one is domestic spending. As Fox News Analyst Charles Krauthammer explained on air after the speech, this breaks down to just cutting $40 million per year. In everyday numbers, that sounds like a lot.

But the national debt is $14,000,000,000,000. His suggested cut won't make a dent. I'm not even sure that's enough each year to pay the interest on our debt.

And when he recalled Eisenhower's administration, rather than citing total dollar numbers, he referenced the percentage of the national GDP that the government spends. A percentage of the Gross Domestic Product is a completely different statistic than the total amount of government cuts. He compared apples to oranges and delivered misleading statistics, but it sounded so good!

And this was a shocking statement:

In the coming year, we will also work to rebuild people’s faith in the institution of government. Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you will be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history. Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done: put that information online. And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: if a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.

The administration came into office in 2008 vowing to be the most transparent administration ever. They've failed to post bills with the five-day window for public comment they promised over and over again. In just the first 9 months, Obama's administration refused more than double the amount of Freedom of Information Acts Requests (FOIA) than were refused in the entire last year of the Bush presidency.

U.S. official website, which swore it would track the Stimulus funding, was called a "dismal failure" by the Sunlight Foundation.

And the earmark ban is now embraced by President Obama? Wait, wasn't that a big platform of the Republicans in November?

Disjointed, misleading and full of double-speak -- while this speech had a few lines that I liked, it was an overall flop. Historically, SOTUs have never doomed an administration, nor have they saved it. Obama said a lot of the same thing, with a sprinkling of tax cuts that will barely reduce the debt burden we currently face. is non-partisan. Its writers are not.

Adrienne works in the conservative movement and blogs at Cosmopolitan Conservative.

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