In his recent State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama presented an inspirational image of a thriving American economy. Enjoying a second honeymoon with a bump in the polls after a productive lame duck session and striking just the right tone in Tucson, the President appeared on a roll. He is to be commended for defending the role of an often beleaguered Federal government.
As its name implies, a State of the Union is a reasonable time to bring unfinished business before the public, examine fundamental issues of civic importance with the President sharing his own vision for the future. Whether Obama convinced the American public, after performing a pompom dance to American Exceptionalism, that the economy had turned a corner is uncertain despite his endorsement of infrastructure initiatives to generate jobs and the next generation of innovative technology to compete in the global marketplace. Sounding like a laissez faire Democrat before the 1929 crash, Obama’s soaring rhetoric was another masterful performance but failed to provide a reality check on the solvency of Federal, State and local governments.
Greeted by Congress with a predictable lovefest fervor, the President’s oft-repeated plea for bipartisan cooperation was akin to a broken record stuck on the same annoying chorus with the annual address offering a Presidential opportunity to rebuild his leadership for the 2012 elections. Clearly in an upbeat mood and enjoying the dais, Obama’s centrist speech struck a tone of Reagan boosterism crediting a free enterprise system for driving innovation, regulatory relief to unburden business and a commitment to reorganize the Federal government.
The President’s assertion that the “stock market is roaring back” and that the “worst of the recession is over’ were reminiscent of Herbert Hoover’s failure to recognize the depth of the Great Depression on the American middle class. As the usual economic indicators show no real signs of recovery as compared to 2008 levels, the President’s assurance that the United States has ‘the largest, most prosperous economy in the world’ offered no solace to 25 million unemployed Americans, over 11 million who have lost their homes or other citizens hanging on by their fingernails with no Federal bailout forthcoming.
Throughout the speech, the President’s disconnect from the anguish of American families was apparent as he stated with belated, if cruel ironic recognition that ‘we cannot afford tax extensions for the wealthiest 2% of Americans’ which he endorsed in December as was his ludicrous suggestion that “millionaires give up their tax break.” Assuming a $10 trillion debt from Bush, Obama again failed to express any heart felt emotion at how the banks have screwed the American people.
Even as Obama was announcing a comprehensive, if unrealistic, vision for growth, his five year annual freeze on discretionary spending to reduce the deficit by $400 billion over the next decade bringing those commitments to ‘its lowest level since Eisenhower’ was as if such a hold on domestic spending was something to be proud of. Promising ‘painful cuts’ to Community Action Programs seemed oddly out-of-kilter coming from a former community organizer.
After the Democrats squandered healthy Senate and House majorities on a health care plan that keeps the insurance industry in the driver’s seat and a financial ‘reform’ package that will not prevent another meltdown, the quest for immigration reform, cutting $4 billion petroleum subsidies and addressing corporate tax inequities did little to inspire confidence even as his allusion that “a parade of lobbyists rigged the tax code” rang hollow as those who rigged the financial system have been by his side in the Oval Office.
As a constitutionally aware attorney, the President’s positive words that “America’s moral example must always shine” stumbles when one considers his denial of a truth commission on Bush Administration illegalities, initiation of an assassination program on American citizens, threatening whistleblowers with jail and continued imprisonments at Guantanamo and of Bradley Manning who has been charged with nothing.
The affirmation that the war in Iraq is over and promising troop withdrawals in Afghanistan by July 2011 (contrary to Gen. Petreaus’ assessment) bumped up against the President’s declaration that “we will not relent, we will not waiver and we will defeat Al Qaeda” and that colleges should allow military recruiters on campus.
Even as the country east of the Mississippi was blanketed by another crippling snow and ice storm, Obama’s address neglected any mention of renewable energy or climate change or its impact on increased commodity prices and escalating foods costs. Noticeably absent from the President’s address were details of the coming austerity budget, a promised comment on America’s violent gun culture, whether reducing the $14 trillion debt is mathematically possible or the loss of jobs overseas (3.2 million since 2000) or a corporate culture that has deprived the Federal treasury of $100 billion in off shore accounts. Most disappointing was the lack of connecting the dots that two wars have drained the American economy while continuing to drive the country into a financial-ditch-of-no-return.
Pledging to “make America the best place on earth to do business” as if there is no longer any urgency to the economic crisis, President Obama’s romance with business is more than embarrassing as he evolves into a political player rather than a principled President.