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Obama’s Burned-Out Presidency

President Obama’s State of the Union address was a strong argument for term limits. What we witnessed last night was Mr. Obama at his most long-winded and intellectually exhausted, acting as if verbosity can make up for an empty agenda.

The president dusted off old promises and commitments (like closing Guantanamo Bay, which he mentioned in his 2009 address and still remains open) and put forward half-baked suggestions masquerading as new policies. There was nothing creative or interesting in what we heard. The speech will be forgotten almost instantaneously. 

To be sure, the president’s speech included his compulsive tendency to lecture and mock Republicans, but by Obama’s standards they were kept pretty well in check. What was most striking about last night’s speech was Mr. Obama’s impotence.

The man who promised to remake the world and halt the rise of the oceans–“We are the moment we’ve been waiting for!”–has been reduced to arguing for patent reform and asking Vice President Biden to lead an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs.

In last year’s speech, the president made gun control a centerpiece of his agenda. Having failed, and having failed in large part because he was undercut by his own party, this year Mr. Obama devoted only two boilerplate sentences to gun restrictions. He’s pushing universal pre-K programs whose benefits are miniscule and transitory. Even the president’s defense of the Affordable Care Act was stale and unoriginal, not to mention at points ludicrous. (For Mr. Obama of all people to argue that Republican health-care plans aren’t credible because the numbers don’t add up ought to elicit a belly laugh from his audience.)

At other points, Mr. Obama’s analysis of the problems facing America–wage stagnation, rising inequality, stalled mobility, too many Americans working more than ever just to get by, with too many others still not working at all–amounts to self-incrimination.

What we saw last night was a burned-out presidency. Mr. Obama was like an aging rock star trying to recapture lost glory. Beginning his sixth year in office, with two years left, President Obama–the avatar of liberalism, the man who presented himself as the embodiment of Hope and Change–has, in the words of Robert Frost, “nothing to look backward to with pride, And nothing to look forward to with hope.”

The Obama presidency is contracting by the day.


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