President Obama’s State of the Union Message was a platitudinous fizzle. Listeners learned that they are all “part of the American family,” that a girl in Tucson may “have dreams like the rest of us,” and “That too is what sets us apart as a nation.” I wondered in what nation on earth are young people in one region of the country not likely to have dreams similar to those in other regions. “We measure our progress by the success of our people.” And that progress is partly “thanks to tax cuts we passed,” by which the president meant tax cuts passed by his predecessor nearly ten years ago, whose continuation Mr. Obama bitterly opposed. “Throughout history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists with the support that they need.” No it hasn’t, apart from in military activities, especially in World War II. And the only scientists and inventors he named, Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers, did not receive one cent from any government. Nor did NASA “create millions of new jobs.” We had the sorry resuscitation of the myth of millions of “clean jobs.” This president, though he has stopped advocating a $100 billion annual payoff for the underdeveloped world in compensation for the advanced economies’ historic carbon use, is still addicted to the use of solar panels and even a combination of sunlight and water in energy production. There was not a word about increasing U.S. oil production or greater use of plentiful natural gas.
We will bound into the future by raising “expectations for every child;” agreeing to “take on illegal immigration” and “rebuilding America,” as “countries in Europe and Russia invest more in roads and railways.” (The president of the United States would be expected to know that there is only one country in Russia.) “We will put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.” (Screaming horrors of “shovel-ready projects” cannot be far off.) In twenty-five years, 80 percent of Americans will have access to high-speed rail. (They haven’t now; why should they then, and Obama will be long gone when they don’t?) “We will in five years make it possible to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless to 98 percent of Americans.” It might be possible to attach some credence to that promise, which the president might be in office to deliver, if he had given a hint of how he proposes to do this.
The rest of the announced program consists of the perennial fairy tale of simplifying the tax system, with the inevitable promise to “get rid of loopholes,” almost as gruesome a cliché as ridding the budget of “waste and fraud” was for thirty years, (and he may define a loophole as any rate of tax below 100 percent for people earning over $250,000 per year); and doubling exports by 2014, with no hint of how this will be achieved, since almost all the country exports, apart from agriculture and forest products and some raw materials, are aircraft and computer equipment; and “a review of government regulations.” He said to the Republicans: “If you can make health care better or more affordable, I’m eager to work with you;” while we “make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt.” This is from the president who has increased debt by over $2.5 trillion in two years. And for good measure, “we will find a bipartisan solution to strengthening social security.” Before “taking money away from schools” or “scholarships from kids,” millionaires should “give up their (unspecified) tax break.” The king of earmarks declared war on earmarks, and said to the earmark (i.e., pork barrel and logrolling and back-scratching) capital of the world: “There isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on earth.” Perhaps not, in the U.S. Congress, but that is scarcely comforting.
In foreign affairs, “We must defeat determined enemies wherever they are”; and, “Our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people,” (a figment of the commander in chief’s imagination); while “The Iranian government faces tougher and tighter sanctions,” (though they remain porous and ineffectual), and, just when I thought it couldn’t become more implausible, “With our European allies, we have revitalized NATO.” (The alliance is a shambles and one of the few countries pulling its weight is Canada).
On the wafer-thin positive side, the president seems finally to have freed his regime from the influence of the Colombian Communist guerrillas and drug lords and to favor the long-stalled free-trade agreement that Nancy Pelosi and the AFL-CIO have opposed. And John Boehner did not burst into tears, as is his custom, when the president said: “Someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father’s Cincinnati bar can preside as speaker of the House in the greatest nation on earth.” Paul Ryan for the Republicans and Michele Bachmann for the Tea Partiers were only slightly better reading prewritten statements off teleprompters, but an effective reply to the president could easily have been prepared by any competent debater in the two or more hours that the text of the president’s message was available.
Mr. Obama said “We do big things.” The country has, but there was no sign of it tonight, and for once Mr. Speaker’s tears might not have been out of place. Many would have been tempted to join him.