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EDITORIAL: Another night, another speech

The president just can’t rise above class warfare

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The words on the teleprompter were changed for Tuesday night, but when Americans woke up Wednesday morning, nothing else had changed. The announced theme of President Obama's sixth State of the Union address was "opportunity, action and optimism."

These presidential speeches are meant to be uplifting, soaring rhetoric to inspire Americans to do their best, to celebrate what it means to be an American. This president gags on celebrating America's values. He's determined that his peculiar values will be America's.

In the hours before the speech, the White House put the focus on Barack Obama, not on the nation and the moment. The White House put out advance photographs and video footage of Mr. Obama behind his Oval Office desk, hand-editing his speech, or sitting on the sofa between his chief speechwriter and his national security adviser, going over the final draft. The message was clear: The president was a man at work. This was no day for golfing.

The promotional video put Mr. Obama's speech in the context of other great remarks delivered to joint sessions of Congress. It showed a snippet of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech delivered on the eve of World War II, of John F. Kennedy promising to send Americans to the moon, Lyndon Johnson declaring unconditional war on poverty, George H.W. Bush announcing the fall of communism, of Jimmy Carter vowing that the United States would not yield to Iranian terrorism. (Not remarked on was that 50 diplomats remained captive for a full year after the Carter speech.)

With perhaps the exception of Mr. Carter's "America held hostage" remarks, Mr. Obama has never risen to the occasion to match either the importance or eloquence of these key presidential speeches.

The speeches that people remember are moving statements of principle, delivered at just the right moment. Mr. Obama just can't find it in him to rise above the endless political campaign.

For him, matters of principle are just words for the moment at hand. He'll talk about bipartisanship and promise to work with leaders on both sides of the aisle, only to go it alone with "executive action" that skirts the will of Congress and snubs the Constitution and its checks and balances. Mr. Obama asks not what he can do for his country, but how his country can reflect him.

In his first State of the Union, his "action" was the trillion-dollar stimulus that he now boasts created 8 million jobs. That's news to the 10.4 million Americans in the unemployment line, the 7.8 million who can't find anything but a part-time job and the 2.4 million who are "marginally attached" to the labor force while trying to find a job. Optimism doesn't mean denying reality.

An honest assessment of the state of the union would recognize the damage that Obamacare has done to the economy. The law creates incentives for smaller firms to dismiss employees or cut hours to avoid severe government penalties.

Business owners are just as baffled as the average consumer about how much health insurance will cost. This prevents planning and expansion. Millions more who obtained policies on the individual market have lost the coverage they were promised they could keep. When the employer mandate kicks in next year, tens of millions of additional policies will be put at risk.

Words from the White House podium won't soothe the wounds inflicted or the wounds to come. The Tuesday night speech was another of many missed opportunities to redeem the promises of the past five years. The president's assurance of "opportunity, action and optimism" is rendered another cheap promise, and the nation has had enough of those.

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