The State of the Union address Tuesday night showcased the best and worst of our President. His best is eloquently delivering a message of hope and progress, assuring everyone that America is getting progressively stronger on all fronts, both here and abroad. No one can dispute that he is the unmatched master at boldly and confidently reciting a teleprompter message that creates a powerful impression of strong leadership and flawless judgments. It’s easy to get a feeling that he must possess some unique, unknown, reassuring facts that no one else sees – say, that there’s an extra $16 trillion pot of gold buried in the Whitehouse basement. I have no doubt that millions of Americans, having heard the speech, retired to their beds confident that America’s future is assured with Obama at the helm.
As with any Obama speech, I find it necessary to extract all the hype by printing out and reading the text of the speech. It’s always revealing. Stripping away the force of Obama’s personality actually confirms the brilliance of his delivery skills because the naked words, left to their lonesome, usually say very little. This particular speech was one of the worse. Many of the words and phrases were familiar. I had read them before. Obama was just using the State of the Union address as another forum for his old, worn out campaign rhetoric. And, in the process, the worst of Obama was being manifest in two powerful ways.
The first relates to the ever-growing gaps between Obama’s broad brush claims of what he is doing and what his administration is actually doing. The gaps grow wider on almost every key issue – unemployment, energy, government regulation, taxes, fiscal responsibility, border control, military strength, Iran, China, you name it. In this annual spectacle, the gaps were center stage. He just takes an issue that appears to be resonating with the public through the efforts of others (such a getting tough with China, one of the recent ones) and starts proclaiming that he’s tackled the matter. His capacity to fabricate and twist facts to stake his claim seems limitless. It’s as if perception really is his reality. His plummeting credibility seems to be of no concern so long as the media covers his back (as it always does) and most Americans remain clueless (as they do).
But of far greater concern is the second way that this speech showcased the worst of Obama. He just didn’t talk about the important stuff – the core issues relating to the state of our union. As always, he ignored the tough realities to advance a worn out campaign message that all will be well if the federal government can just spend more on pet projects and tax the hell out of the Obama-defined rich.
The list of critical omissions in this State of the Union address is huge when the big picture facts are considered – that, for example, the federal government hasn’t had a budget in over 1,000 days; that the value of the dollar is continually dropping along with the real income of Americans; that our food stamp rolls have ballooned to over 40 million (up 50 percent from pre-recession levels); that the number receiving unemployment benefits has jumped four-fold (400 percent); that over 4.4 million are now on welfare (up 18 percent); that Medicaid costs have leaped 36 percent in two years; that an additional 750,000 people (an increase over normal projections) are now gaming Social Security to collect disability benefits for the balance of their working days; that nearly 50 percent of America’s households now do not pay a dime of income taxes; and much more.
It’s far beyond the scope of this effort to describe any significant portion of the important omissions. But here’s my take on the top five matters that were conspicuously left out of this State of the Union address.
1. There was no mention of Obamacare, the biggest elephant in the House chamber by any standard and the crown jewel of the Obama administration. Implementation of this unprecedented massive legislation, passed under the most shameful of circumstances, will truly accomplish Obama’s goal of “fundamentally transforming” America. America will never be the same. A constitutional showdown is slated in the Supreme Court this spring; every Republican Presidential candidate advocates complete repeal; and Americans of all ages are frozen with fear, along with the private business sector. The risks include much higher healthcare costs, reduced healthcare services, rationed care, diluted Medicare benefits, rapidly escalating deficits, crushing financial blows to the states, and a federal bureaucracy of unprecedented size that has already earned a well-deserved reputation for inefficiency, fraud, waste and abuse. It’s hard to imagine any discussion about our nation that doesn’t include a focus on the risks and challenges of Obamacare.
2. There was no mention of the downgrade of our nation’s credit rating in 2011, the first time in our history that an official rating agency has proclaimed that the full faith and credit of the United States is inferior to that of many other nations. At a minimum, we deserved in this State of the Union an honest assessment of the root cause of this horrible debacle, why Obama and his Treasury Secretary and key financial people had so misread the situation (promising just a few months earlier that it could never happen), and what actions are being taken to remedy the situation in the future.
3. Of the 6,963 words in the speech, only 31 were devoted to Social Security and Medicare, the two unsustainable behemoths that provide for our seniors and those in greatest need. These two monster programs, if not structurally reformed, promise to implode into an unprecedented financial catastrophe that could bankrupt our nation. The sheer size, uncertainty, and mess of these programs stand as a powerful obstacle to any real progress. Obama’s measly 31 words just confirmed, once again, that the ongoing gutless neglect of these monsters is not a priority for him. The words made clear that any effort to save these programs would be viewed as a concession from his perspective, something he would consider only if it can be used as trading bait to keep America focused on his reelection red herring – higher taxes on the rich.
4. There was no mention of the daunting unemployment impact numbers – the tens of thousands who permanently throw in the towel on their employment hopes every month; the over 2.6 million who are now considered “marginally attached” to the workforce (which means they would like a job but haven’t bothered to look for one in four weeks); the additional 8.5 million who want real employment but must settle for lousy part-time work; the real unemployment rate that jumps to a shocking 15.6 percent when the marginally attached and the unhappy part-timers are factored into the mix; and the 11 million net new jobs that we will be required over the next five years (at least 275,000 each month) to return to a decent employment rate and absorb those who are entering the workforce. There’s simply no basis for Obama’s summary claims, advanced again in this speech, that the protracted, pitifully anemic recovery that we are now enduring can be characterized as acceptable progress.
5. There was no mention of the seriousness of our horrible debt crisis; that our federal debt now grows an additional trillion dollars every ten months; that the federal government now borrows 40 cents on every dollar it spends; that the public debt will have nearly doubled during Obama’s first term in office; and that, under any scenario (taxing the rich or not), our federal debt will be far in excess of an unfathomable $20 trillion within the next ten years if we don’t significantly alter course. The associated escalating interest costs alone will be an unbearable, ever-growing burden for all Americans, especially the young. His tax-the-rich plans are nothing more than a ploy to divert eyes from the real problem – a problem that higher taxes won’t help. Obama has never been able to credibly project a plausible scenario under which untold financial misery can be avoided long term with his policies in place. Again in this speech, he just ignored the hard numbers and the impossible hole that is being dug at an escalating pace.
These omissions are profound. They again raise the serious question of whether Obama is capable of offering anything more than gifted oratorical skills that made him an accomplished community organizer and enabled him to leap frog to the Whitehouse without a record of any significant legislative accomplishments. One would expect and hope that, having now spent three years as the President during a period of debilitating stagnation and pain, Obama would use a State of the Union address opportunity to dial down the artificial hype and get serious and honest about the unprecedented challenges that our nation faces at this critical juncture. It didn’t happen.
January 26, 2012