It is interesting how many of the critiques of President Obama's State of the Union speech were written before he gave it - "Obama Pivots to Jobs"; "Obama Bids for Rebound"; "Message to Democrats: Stay the Course". I'll try to be objective, and use the test of whether the speech reflected a change of direction or added impetus to any major initiatives. And, it is important to recognize that a speech is just a speech unless it results in specific legislative proposals or executive orders.
First the credits:
- In discussing energy, Obama seemed to advocate offshore drilling for oil and a significant expansion of nuclear power (a la McCain.) In promoting exports, he seemed to advocate for passage of the long-delayed free trade agreements with South Korea, Columbia, and Panama (a la McCain.) He claims a desire for bipartisanship, and has agreed to participate in House Republican Conference later this week. He sought Republican ideas on health care - and can find them at Gop.gov.
- And he gave credit to George W. Bush (well, he didn't exactly phrase it that way) for the plan to successfully phase down American military presence in Iraq, and the TARP's rescue of the financial system.
- On the economy, he advocated using $30 billion of remaining TARP money for loans to small businesses through community banks. Better late than never.
- While some would disagree, I would put the rescinding of "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" in this "credits" category. (To me, President Truman's 1948 executive order integrating the military provides encouragement.)
Then the debits:
- Obama obviously doesn't get it on fiscal responsibility. A "spending freeze" on discretionary spending - to begin next year on budget items which have increased 70% in a decade and does not include "stimulus money" - satisfies nobody. And a toothless "bipartisan fiscal commission" to recommend spending and tax changes after the next election provides political cover for the Democrats who control everything budgetary. He couldn't even resist new spending programs - college loan foregiveness and subsidies for elder care.
- He clearly understands the need to do something on jobs, but has no idea what. He included much of the Chamber of Commerce's wish list on tax cuts (ala McCain) - rejected a year ago in favor of the pork-laden Stimulus Bill, and this will do some good, but not soon enough to save his Democratic Congress.
- And national security really is a blank. False claims of moral leadership (abandonment of Iran's opposition movement), progress on control of nuclear weapons (except Iran and North Korea), and a comprehensive (unsigned and stalled) treaty with Russia should be challenged. And the silence about criminal trials for terrorists was deafening.
And the pivot?:
- Health care. We still need Congress to pass comprehensive reform, now that we are so close. C'mon Harry.
- Cap and Trade. Still a priority. Ignore the "deniers".
- Financial regulation reform. Maybe Tim Geithner will get out ahead of this if he survives.
- And "Good government". There was acknowledgment of the people's disgust with Harry Reid's health care deals (with or without C-Span), credit for starting to rein in earmarks (ala McCain; well, there have been just a few thousand), a false "lobbyist-free" claim, and an inappropriate criticism of the Supreme Court decision on free speech by corporations and unions - with a clearly wrong and inflamatory claim that it applied to foreign corporations.
And finally, on style:
- The pundits still refer to his great oratory - despite his finger wagging and 96 references to "I". Over-exposure for sure.
- And most irritating was the requirement to spend an hour watching Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi in the background, particularly as she jumped to her feet to applaud at the mention of earmarks.
So, did it change any significant directions or add impetus? It might edge his approval ratings back toward 50% for a few weeks, but otherwise I doubt it.
This week's You tube is a hilarious riff by John Stewart about the Scott Brown election, the event which showed that the emperor had no clothes. And for those questioning the Daily Show's general bias, here's a year-old interview with Stewart's 10 (all male) writers expressing their love for Obama.
bill bowen - 1/29/10