I found President Obama’s State of the Union address this week infuriating — and exhilarating.
It was infuriating for all the usual reasons. For all the talk that this time things would be different, in the first State of the Union speech since the American people repudiated his entire agenda we got the same old Mr. Obama, arrogant, disdainful, defiant of the new Republican majorities and of the voters who sent them to Washington. Had there been a referee on the premises, he would have thrown a flag for taunting.
It was perhaps the most in-your-face speech of this kind that I have ever heard, and I felt for the Republican lawmakers who had to sit through it, knowing that the television cameras were ready to pick up any scowl, eye roll or failure to join a “spontaneous” standing ovation. (It must have been especially tough for House Speaker John Boehner, who had to preserve his dignity and remain polite while Joe Biden was bouncing up and down like a manic jack-in-the box behind the president.)
The president either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that his party badly lost the elections. He’s not listening to the American people, as was evident in the very first minutes of his speech when he laid out the same old tired agenda that dragged down the Democrats in the first place. When President Clinton got a similar repudiation in the 1990s, at least he had the smarts to cooperate — sometimes kicking and screaming — with our new Republican majorities to get items like welfare reform passed. Things worked out so well that now Mr. Clinton brags about the things we forced him to accept.
That’s clearly not Mr. Obama’s way. What we got instead was one of the most misguided, frankly unconstitutional speeches ever given by an American president. The president called for universal child care, gender pay equity, guaranteed paid sick leave for workers, a higher minimum wage, free community college and new rules to make labor unions stronger — not one of which is the responsibility of the federal government under the Constitution. Then he laid out all the things he’s ready to veto if he doesn’t get his way — not exactly the bipartisan outreach that his advisers said was coming.
Even more infuriating — if possible — was Mr. Obama’s boasting about how far we have allegedly come under his watch. He bragged of bringing down the federal deficit in recent years when it was his uncontrolled — and unconstitutional — spending and taxing that ran up the deficit and debt in the first place. The official unemployment rate is down, but only because 90 million Americans have grown so discouraged that they’ve dropped out of the labor market altogether.
The president says he wants to turn his attention to stagnant wages and income inequality, apparently oblivious to the fact that wages aren’t going up precisely because there is a vast army of nonworkers out there saturating the job market. And income inequality will never be “fixed” by taxing the job producers more and giving the money to people who aren’t working. That approach has failed everywhere it has been tried.
The president’s victory lap was even more incredible when you consider the full plate of crises beyond our borders, from Russia and Iran to Yemen, Nigeria and Syria — the easily foreseen consequences of an administration that brags of “leading from behind.” The president claims the “shadow of crisis” has passed, but that’s not true to anyone who has been paying attention.
So why the exhilaration, you ask?
The more I listened to the speech, the more I was convinced that the president is handing the Republicans an incredible opportunity. He’s not backing down from his disastrous progressive agenda, and that means conservatives cannot afford to back down from theirs.
New Sen. Joni Ernst struck a nice, hopeful tone in her official rebuttal speech, but building the Keystone pipeline and getting more help to vets is not a full agenda. The joint House-Senate Republican retreat last week was another missed opportunity to pre-empt the president’s liberal agenda, to put a true constitutional conservative program on the table and force this president to react.
But Mr. Obama’s speech made it crystal clear that Republicans have no alternative to confrontation, a clash that should last through the 2016 election. Facing a delusional and defiant president, this is no time for conservatives to play small-ball. We need a bold agenda that presents an alternative to the left. We need real, pro-growth tax reform. We need to repeal Obamacare — now. We need to slash spending. We need to defund the president’s illegal executive actions, starting with his amnesty for illegal immigrants. We have to show we respect life and traditional values.
There can be no debate about it any more. Barack Obama has made it unmistakably clear he wants a fight.
We should give him one.
• Tom DeLay, a former congressman from Texas and House majority leader from 2003 to 2005, writes a weekly column for The Washington Times and WashingtonTimes.com.