- The Washington Times - Monday, January 11, 2016

Both news media and the White House are in a dither over President Obama‘s final State of the Union address Tuesday night, ramping up the drama and framing the event as an act of breathless significance and gravitas. It’s all for naught, says one presidential historian.

“Despite the importance of the issues, the solutions Barack Obama will advance in his last State of the Union remarks will be small and inconsequential because, ultimately, his presidency was small and inconsequential,” says Craig Shirley, a best-selling Reagan biographer and presidential historian.

“A few presidents go down in history as great men who sought to do great things. Others, like Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, will go down in history as undersized leaders who sought the presidency to enhance themselves rather than enhancing the country. The policies of this administration will quickly fade into history,” Mr. Shirley predicts.

Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson, meanwhile, is not buying into Mr. Obama’s strategy to have an empty chair present during his speech — meant to symbolize the victims of gun violence.

“I wonder if the American people are concerned about that kind of symbolism — or are they concerned about the safety of their family members when they sit around the table at nighttime to eat dinner? We’ve gotten into all of these fancy symbolisms, and we are actually in a lot of trouble. You look at the number of infiltrations, particularly at our Southern border, by what they call ‘OTM’ — ‘other than Mexicans’ — and that also includes other than Central Americans and South Americans,” Mr. Carson told Fox News on Monday.

“A lot of people are coming here from Iraq, Syria and Somalia and places like that, and we’re not doing a lot about it. They are infiltrating. There are cells there. The American people are concerned about that, and they don’t see the same level of concern from our government. I think that’s what they are worried about — not about some empty seat,” Mr. Carson noted.


The ever-friendly media is only too happy to provide some audience warmup for Mr. Obama’s aforementioned address, priming the American public to expect soaring oratory and unforgettable moments. A few headlines of note:

“Obama’s final State of the Union Address will define his presidency” (USA Today); “Obama goes it alone in his last State of the Union” (CNN); “State of the Union: Obama eyes own legacy and future of America” (Fiscal Times); “Obama raises curtain on his final act (Chicago Tribune); “Obama’s Last State of the Union Address aims to set tone for ‘16 campaign” (New York Times); “Obama hopes to stoke optimism in farewell State of the Union” (Daily Telegraph); “White House joins Snapchat ahead of State of the Union address (Reuters); and “Is Obama’s last State of the Union speech meaningless?” (Columbus Dispatch).


A few passing numbers from a mighty big sample: More Americans identify as conservative (37 percent), a finding that has not varied by a percentage point since 1992, says a new Gallup poll of 12,000 U.S. adults conducted between January and December of 2015 — and compared to the pollster historic data. Another 35 percent are moderate and 24 percent are liberals.

Sixty-eight percent of Republicans say they are conservatives, compared to 32 percent of moderates and 17 percent of Democrats. Meanwhile, 45 percent of Democrats say they are liberal, compared to 22 percent of independents and 6 percent of Republicans.


At a campaign rally in Iowa on Monday, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton proposed a 4 percent “fair share surcharge” on incomes over $5 million a year. So what else is new? Some presidents of note have been there and done that.

“Hillary is now the third Democrat presidential candidate to call for raising taxes on ‘the rich.’ Bill Clinton and Barack Obama said the same and immediately pivoted to raising taxes on the middle class. Bill taxed gasoline, and Obama imposed seven Obamacare taxes on the middle class,” observes Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, which is currently tracking Mrs. Clinton’s proposals for higher taxes, found at HighTaxHillary.com.

“Her husband Bill made the same promise and then raised energy taxes, gasoline taxes on the middle class,” says Mr. Norquist, pointing out that Mr. Obama once pledged against any tax hikes on those making less than $250,000, then “shattered the promise” with Obamacare, which contains at least seven tax increases that directly and overwhelmingly hit middle-income families.

“Hillary is now campaigning on a similar $250,000 promise,” he adds.


It makes for a dramatic exit, anyway.

Following his final State of the Union speech, President Obama immediately leaves town. He departs the nation’s capital for Omaha, Nebraska — poised to give a speech Wednesday “to engage with Americans about the progress we’ve made and how we can continue taking action in the next year to help hardworking Americans get ahead,” according to the White House.

But wait, there’s more. Mr. Obama is then bound for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this time “to engage with Americans about the real progress he has made working with the American people to move our country forward.”


60 percent of U.S. investors say their “retirement experience” will be better than their parents’ was.

50 percent say their spouse is the “most positive” influence on their retirement planning; 40 percent cite their financial adviser.

25 percent say their father is the “most important influence” on that subject.

48 percent say they will stay in their current home when they retire.

34 percent say their children will have a worse quality of life in retirement than their own.

28 percent plan to downsize when they retire.

25 percent say their children’s retirement life will be better than theirs.

Source: A John Hancock survey of 1,018 U.S. investors with annual salaries of at least $75,000 conducted Nov. 9-21 and released Monday.

• Grand speeches, curious asides to jharper@washingtontimes.com

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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