Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Last night, President Barack Obama delivered his third State of the Union Address to Congress.

The annual rite of passage, prescribed by the Constitution, is basically a performance review of the President. It is intended to update Congress on what the President has accomplished during the prior year and what he intends to accomplish going forward.

And, it is in this sense, that President Obama's speech last night was a failure.

To be sure, there were some decent moments. Even after all this time, President Obama is still a good orator. We applaud his calls for illegal immigration reform and for bipartisanship. And, it was truly heartwarming to see retiring Representative Gabrielle Giffords back in the House Chamber.

However, the President's speech itself fell short of what the President needed to do, and it raised real questions about his leadership.

Recently, MSNBC "Hardball" host Chris Matthews spoke about President Obama's failure to clearly articulate a vision for a second term in office. "What are we trying to do in this administration? What is he going to do in his second term?" asked Matthews.

Disappointingly, Obama did little to advance the cause last night. His speech was short-sighted and lacking of broad vision for a second term. It was basically the same old speech Obama has been giving for the past four years -- without results to back it up.

Obama based his remarks on a fundamental belief that there is latent inequality and unfairness in America. He said, "The defining issue of our times is how to keep the American Dream alive." He decried a system where people don't have a "fair shot," one where people don't pay their "fair share," and one where people don't "play by the same set of rules." And, he pledged to circumvent Congressional or partisan obstruction to remedying the situation by taking action on his own.

However, he claimed that "the state of our union is getting stronger," and that people around the world, including people in Tokyo and Rio, believe "America is back." And, he said that anyone who says otherwise "doesn't know what they are talking about."

Really? You mean like the millions of Americans who are unemployed or underemployed and who are worried about paying their mortgage or buying food for their family? What an insult.

The current state of our union is (sadly) more accurately summed up in this outstanding video by American Crossroads which sums up the problems being faced by the middle class.

Obama's speech offered few solutions to real problems. His plan to address inequality boiled down to a proposal to increase taxes on the wealthy, invoking the "Buffett Rule" (a rule that those making over $1 million should pay a minimum tax rate of 30 percent) in the shadow of Warren Buffett's secretary, just to make a point. However, he failed to say how this added revenue would help those who do not fall into the Buffett Rule's purview; namely, how the money would be spent and how it would stimulate the economy.

Three years into the Obama Administration, there were very few ideas put forward to get Americans back to work. The President's call for job training for two million Americans is old hat. And, his Kennedyesque call for businesses to do everything they can to bring jobs back to the United States (in return for which the United States would do what it can to make businesses succeed), smacked of the same old misunderstanding of the role of government and private business that the President advanced in a speech to the United States Chamber of Commerce a year ago:

"As a government, we will help lay the foundation for you to grow and innovate. We will upgrade our transportation and communications networks so you can move goods and information more quickly and cheaply. We will invest in education so that you can hire the most skilled, talented workers in the world. And we'll knock down barriers that make it harder for you to compete, from the tax code to the regulatory system."
"But I want to be clear: even as we make America the best place on earth to do business, businesses also have a responsibility to America."

"Now, I understand the challenges you face. I understand that you're under incredible pressure to cut costs and keep your margins up. I understand the significance of your obligations to your shareholders. I get it. But as we work with you to make America a better place to do business, ask yourselves what you can do for America. Ask yourselves what you can do to hire American workers, to support the American economy, and to invest in this nation."

The President spoke little of foreign policy. He had some tough words for Iran, though they lacked credibility. In fact, his talk of the potential for military intervention in this foreign policy hotspot was basically overshadowed by his pride for requiring the U.S. Navy to become a leading purchaser of clean energy. The Commander in Chief truly seems to have his priorities askew.

Then, there was the hypocrisy of the speech.

It was amazing that the President could spend so much time claiming a need to create jobs in the energy sector just days after rejecting plans for the Keystone Pipeline project in America's heartland, a project which even big labor acknowledged would create thousands of jobs.

It was astounding that the President could decry regulations that stunt entrepreneurship and innovation mere weeks after stretching the Constitution to make recess appointments to boards which, by their very nature, are intended to inhibit the freedom of businesses through regulatory activity.

It was laughable that the President could call for campaign finance reform at the same time he is laying plans for a record-breaking reelection campaign that could top $1 billion.

It was unfortunate that the President could mix calls for bipartisanship and "lowering the temperature in Washington" with near-constant laying of blame on Republicans in Congress for standing in the way of his agenda.

And, it was truly unbelievable that this President – a President who has engaged in unbridled spending, debt creation and government expansion – would fail to embrace the work of the debt reduction commission and at the same time invoke the name of Abraham Lincoln in a call for limited government.

It is truly disappointing that, after more than a thousand days in office, this is the best effort the President could muster.

We believe the speech is textbook material for Republicans seeking to recapture the Oval Office in 2012, and that the opportunity to draw contrasts with the Obama Administration is ripe for the picking. However, it remains up to the candidates to seize upon the opportunity and to articulate their own solid, credible vision for America's future that includes getting people back to work and restoring America's leadership in the international community.