CROUSE: Obama: Big government is back, baby
President Obama’s State of the Union address was his best opportunity since his midterm “shellacking” to seriously address the debt and deficit issues that threaten America’s economic stability now and far
into our grandchildren’s future. His failure to deal with reality, however, was evident throughout the speech.
The president called for the nation to do “big things,” yet he cited only government programs and initiatives as examples of “innovation.” The theme of the speech, implied but not stated, was, “the way to do great things is collectively, through the government.” The government may have a corner on fighting wars, but ordinary Americans are not convinced that the road to other major accomplishments runs through Washington.
The Republican members of Congress, as well as many of the Democrats - and certainly, his television audience - were well aware of the contrast between his rhetoric and the dire circumstances we face as a nation resulting from the president’s policies. Certainly, his immediate audience as well as the broader one, saw at least irony, if not hypocrisy, in the president’s calls for bipartisanship and civility after the closed-door dealings over health care reform and the demagoguery used to enact the president’s agenda over the American public’s expressed objection. The residual anger at how the Democrats handled their power in the 111th Congress and the obvious inconsistency between what the president did and what he was saying cast a pall over the whole evening, in spite of the bipartisan seating and the president’s well-practiced, fluid delivery style.
The celebrated “prom date” seating backfired on the Democrats. Instead of showing unity, it inhibited both parties from reacting normally to the remarks. There were few standing ovations at an occasion when the president’s supporters are typically up and down all evening. Even Mr. Obama’s use of self-deprecating humor, though it provided some levity in the laundry list of issues, produced only polite laughter from the assembled dignitaries.
Worse, the speech brought into sharp focus the weaknesses of this president. Why was it a “Sputnik moment” and not a moon-landing moment or an Apollo moment? He referenced a Soviet achievement, while acknowledging that American space achievements overshadowed Sputnik. He talked about compromise, but made it clear that he will not bend on his health care reform provisions. He lauded his extension of the Bush tax cuts, but made it clear that his goal is to end “tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.”
Mr. Obama talked on and on about “investment” (i.e., spending), as though further stimulus spending were the tried and proven means by which to revive the economy, while also talking about being committed to reducing the federal deficit and the national debt (apparently missing the obvious contradiction). He promised a freeze on discretionary spending, while noting that such costs make up a mere 12 percent of the budget. He challenged the government to “encourage innovation” without admitting that nearly all innovation comes from individual initiative, not government programs. He cited his “Race to the Top” - yet another education initiative in a long line of such government attempts to improve the dismal performance of our public schools - as the “most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.” It was obvious that this president - driven by his radical ideology - intends merely to repackage his agenda to expand big government. We saw no evidence that he understands the dire threats - the debt and deficits - facing the American economy. Beneath his calm demeanor and plastic delivery last night, there was hollowness - a dignified, but empty suit.
Even the president’s assertion of the need for the nation’s parents to get more involved with their children education - citing American students falling behind in math and science - served merely as a justification for increased spending and greater expansion of government. His repeated calls for Congress to send him reform measures fell flat, as was starkly evident in the speaker of the House’s studied efforts to keep his face expressionless. Everybody knows that with the GOP having control of only one body of Congress, any reform efforts will have to start with the president. Obviously, Mr. Obama will be spending the next two years trying to increase his poll numbers and reframe as victories the debacles of the past two years.
In summary, the president’s State of the Union speech fell short of accomplishing his goals. The American public saw through his rhetoric: pollster Frank Luntz’s focus group in Atlanta called his appeals to bipartisanship “phony.” Clearly, there was a disconnect between the current initiative to use soothing rhetoric and the last two years’ harsh reality of smash-mouth, Chicago-style politics. Everyday Americans remember the president calling his opponents “enemies.” Conservatives remember being told to “sit in the back.” People know the difference between politics and principles; they recognize political ploys. This speech was designed, at root, to appeal to his base and to shore up his political constituency, who stand in stark contrast to the energized members of Tea Party. The 2011 State of the Union address was insipid and uninspired; worst of all, the president showed no gut-level sense of urgency about an economic environment that threatens the American way of life or any understanding that his radical policies and political appointees undermine the foundations of this great nation.
He simply doesn’t get it. Mr. Obama simply does not understand that the secret to America’s past greatness has not been, nor do her hopes for the future rest on, doing big things through government.
Janice Shaw Crouse, former presidential speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, is author of “Children at Risk” and a senior fellow at Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute.
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