Commentary Magazine


Topic: state of the union

Obama’s Budget and Our Potemkin Politics

After President Obama’s State of the Union address, I noted that even partisan-left media outlets were unwilling to play along with Obama’s self-serving framing of his foreign policy. Now Obama’s getting the same treatment on domestic policy as well. It’s a rude awakening for a president so accustomed to being treated with kid gloves by an adoring media, and a sure sign he’s officially a lame duck.

Read More

After President Obama’s State of the Union address, I noted that even partisan-left media outlets were unwilling to play along with Obama’s self-serving framing of his foreign policy. Now Obama’s getting the same treatment on domestic policy as well. It’s a rude awakening for a president so accustomed to being treated with kid gloves by an adoring media, and a sure sign he’s officially a lame duck.

Obama has released his proposed budget, and commentators have been mostly unable to stifle their disbelief. To be fair, part of the reason Obama’s budget is so unrealistic is that the Republicans currently control Congress, so it has no chance of passing. But in truth, that probably doesn’t change its chances so much as it gives the president and his party’s populists an excuse to claim Republican intransigence. Many Democrats surely don’t want to be put in a position to vote for the taxman’s anthem that is this budget document.

Here, via the New York Times, are some of the ways it’s being received by the left. A Times reporter’s description of its content:

President Obama presented a budget on Monday that is more utopian vision than pragmatic blueprint. It proposes a politically improbable reshaping of the tax code and generous new social spending initiatives that would shift resources from the wealthy to the middle class.

The same reporter’s take on what it’s missing:

Absent from the plan is any pretense of trying to address the main drivers of the long-term debt — Social Security and Medicare — a quest that has long divided both parties and ultimately proved impossible. The document instead indicates that Mr. Obama, after years of being hemmed in on his fiscal priorities because of politics and balance sheets, feels newly free to outline an ambitious set of goals that will set the terms of a debate between Democrats and Republicans and shape the 2016 presidential election.

A former economic advisor to Vice President Biden’s opinion of it:

“It’s a visionary document and basically says, ‘You’re with me or you’re not,’ and we can have big philosophical arguments about the role of government, and perhaps in 2016 we will,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former top economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Back to the Times reporter on Obama the Bipartisan Healer:

Yet the budget confirms that for Mr. Obama, the era of searching for a “grand bargain” with Republicans on entitlements and spending — an exercise that alienated liberal Democrats who were loath to consider any measure to rein in Medicare and Social Security — is over.

And all this, believe it or not, is still a favorable reading of it. The Times repeats uncritically the president’s propagandistic declarations of “middle-class economics” and that the bill’s tax increases would hit “the rich” without investigating how these taxes and fees would end up on the shoulders of the “middle class”–to say nothing of the president’s own shots at confiscating middle-class cash, like his ill-fated 529 plan.

And it also takes as Gospel the idea that Obama has truly been searching, in good faith, for grand bipartisan solutions. The lesson of Obama’s first six years, with occasional exceptions, is that “bipartisan” to Obama means that Republicans vote for his policies. The Democrats have shown they can file legislation without Republican input and without Republican amendments with a clear conscience. And during the rare times when Democrats and Republicans really were negotiating in good faith for a deal, Obama showed a propensity to sabotage those talks or poison the well.

So it might be more accurate to say that the era of pretending to search for a “grand bargain” is officially over. And that, in its own way, is the one honest aspect of the budget. The rest is theater. And theater is, increasingly, what national politics has become.

There’s the State of the Union itself, which is clear pageantry made all the more intolerable by the orchestrated applause and non-applause, standing and sitting, laughing and scowling from the congressional audience. There are the presidential nominating conventions, which are devoid of drama of any kind. (Though the Democrats’ 2012 convention did have that one hectic unscripted moment when the party’s delegates angrily voted down adding pro-Israel language to the party’s platform.)

And now we have Potemkin budgets, constructed to look pretty but act as a façade to cover the ideological ruins behind it. Except by year seven the press gets tired of playing along, even for Obama.

Read Less

Lame Duck? Yes. Boehner Halts Obama’s Brief Winning Streak.

The prevailing political narrative of the last few weeks has been all about how President Obama has seized the initiative back from the Republican victors in November’s midterms. But the president’s winning streak—at least as far as prevailing in the daily struggle to dominate the news cycle—may be over. Though most accounts of the State of the Union followed the White House talking points that claimed his proposals would help the middle class, the fact that one of them would have taken away a key college savings plan that helped ordinary taxpayers did not escape the attention of the public or his Republican foes. As a result of the anger the idea generated, the president waved the white flag on the idea today and withdrew his proposal to eliminate 529 college savings accounts. Though much of the rest of his Robin Hood budget that is long on left-wing populist rhetoric and short on economic sense won’t be passed either, this particular defeat demonstrated just how disingenuous the president’s pose as defender of the middle class truly was.

Read More

The prevailing political narrative of the last few weeks has been all about how President Obama has seized the initiative back from the Republican victors in November’s midterms. But the president’s winning streak—at least as far as prevailing in the daily struggle to dominate the news cycle—may be over. Though most accounts of the State of the Union followed the White House talking points that claimed his proposals would help the middle class, the fact that one of them would have taken away a key college savings plan that helped ordinary taxpayers did not escape the attention of the public or his Republican foes. As a result of the anger the idea generated, the president waved the white flag on the idea today and withdrew his proposal to eliminate 529 college savings accounts. Though much of the rest of his Robin Hood budget that is long on left-wing populist rhetoric and short on economic sense won’t be passed either, this particular defeat demonstrated just how disingenuous the president’s pose as defender of the middle class truly was.

As Seth Mandel noted last week, the elimination of the 529 accounts had little to do with helping middle-class taxpayers or promoting education. The point of the plan was to expand the power of government and its loan racket that exploits the students it purports to help.

Obama’s apologists at the New York Times tried to spin this attack on those trying to save for college as somehow a break for them since the administration claimed that other proposals would offset this loss. But what taxpayers know is that such deals always backfire. New breaks may or may not have worked out as the president claimed. But the elimination of the 529 accounts would have been permanent. In the game of tax breaks, citizens are always playing against the house in a government casino where the house always wins.

So it was little surprise that Republicans planned to resist the plan with Speaker John Boehner demanding that the president withdraw his proposal before the House even considered the rest of the budget. But what happened in the last week is that even Democrats understood that what Obama was trying to shove down the nation’s throat was a knife in the back to those trying to save for their children’s college education. In the end, the White House had no choice but to give up.

Obama’s executive orders on immigration and boasts about recent good economic news helped fuel an aggressive approach that has given the press the impression that the president can avoid being a lame duck in the last two years of his second term. But no amount of spin or high-handed extra-constitutional actions can enable the president to impose all of his agenda on the nation. Nor can the near unanimous applause of the media allow him to sell a measure that strips taxpayers of one of their few defenses against the ravages of the Internal Revenue Service as a gift to them.

This was more than what even the Times termed a “flubbed launch.” It was a crucial moment that exposed the presidential Merry Men as mere thieves preying on the middle class, not its saviors. Conservatives who have been back on their heels this month should take heart. The Obama comeback remains what it has always been: mere smoke and mirrors designed to spin the weakest recovery since the Second World War as a time of prosperity and an excuse for more liberal looting of the Treasury and citizens’ wallets. Boehner’s successful demand shows that he’s still in charge of the budget and Obama really is a lame duck.

Read Less

The Smartest Guy Ever to Be President Isn’t Quite As Smart As He Thinks

Barack Obama is really, really smart. I know, because he told me so during his State of the Union address. Our president is especially smart on foreign policy. I know because Mr. Obama told me that, too. “I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership,” the president said. “We lead best when … we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents. That’s exactly what we’re doing right now. And around the globe, it is making a difference.”

Read More

Barack Obama is really, really smart. I know, because he told me so during his State of the Union address. Our president is especially smart on foreign policy. I know because Mr. Obama told me that, too. “I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership,” the president said. “We lead best when … we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents. That’s exactly what we’re doing right now. And around the globe, it is making a difference.”

Of course it is.

Take how smart the president has been in combating ISIS (aka ISIL and the Islamic State). On Tuesday night Mr. Obama informed us that he was asking Congress to pass a resolution to authorize the use of force against the Islamic State. This comes precisely a year after our really, really smart commander in chief referred to ISIS as a “jayvee team.” That prediction was so prescient that the president decided to deceive us about it.

Here are some other examples of the shrewdness of the president. In his speech on Tuesday, Mr. Obama declared, “We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort [to defeat the Islamic State], and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.” This comes after the president said last August that the notion that arming Syrian rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy.” The president apparently believes that supporting what he deemed a fantasy–one military official told the press they are calling the moderate Syrian opposition “the Unicorn” because they have not been able to find it–now qualifies as Kissingerian.

The president also declared on Tuesday that “in Iraq and Syria, American leadership — including our military power — is stopping ISIL’s advance.” That would be good news–if it were true. But just last week a senior defense official was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying, “certainly ISIL has been able to expand in Syria.” According to the Journal, “More than three months of U.S. airstrikes in Syria have failed to prevent Islamic State militants from expanding their control in that country, according to U.S. and independent assessments, raising new concerns about President Barack Obama’s military strategy in the Middle East.” NBC’s chief foreign-policy correspondent, Richard Engel, in reacting to the president’s address, said, “Well, it sounded like the President was outlining a world that he wishes we were all living in but which is very different than the world that you just described with terror raids taking place across Europe, ISIS very much on the move.”

The president added, “Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we’re partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America.” Now in commenting on those safe havens we’re denying terrorists, is it indecorous to point out that the Islamic State, located in the Middle East, is the best-armed, best-funded terrorist group on earth and that it “controls a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations,” in the words of Janine Davidson of the Council on Foreign Relations? I hope not, since even Mr. Obama’s own secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, has said ISIS is “beyond anything we have ever seen.” (That’s some jayvee team.)

Mr. Obama was also brainy enough to declare his foreign policy a terrific success on the very day that a Shiite militia group took over the presidential palace in the Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, “sparking fresh concerns about a country that has become a cornerstone of U.S. counterterrorism strategy.” Which reminded me of how President Savant held up Yemen as a model of success only last September, telling us, “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” Which in turn reminded me of Libya.

It was in the fall of 2011 when President Obama, speaking to the United Nations and announcing yet another of his grand achievements, declared, “Forty two years of tyranny was ended in six months. From Tripoli to Misurata to Benghazi — today, Libya is free.” Mr. Obama went on to say, “This is how the international community is supposed to work — nations standing together for the sake of peace and security, and individuals claiming their rights.” And what a success it was. Just last summer, in fact, the United States, because of rising violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias, shut down its embassy in Libya and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort. Earlier this month King’s College George Joffe wrote, “Libya seems finally to be about to descend into full blown civil war.” Call it another Model of Success during the Obama era.

Our percipient president also declared in his State of the Union speech, “Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.” That assertion is so reality-based that (a) the Washington Post fact-checker declared “there is little basis” for the president’s claims and (b) the highest ranking Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, said the more he hears from Mr. Obama and his administration about Iran, “the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.” Oh, and the president made his announcement on the very day that we learned that Russia and Iran are more aligned than ever, having signed an agreement on military cooperation between the two nations.

I also thought it was really smart of the president to declare that “we stand united with people around the world who have been targeted by terrorists, from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris”–especially since Mr. Obama was one of the very few leaders in the free world who didn’t stand with the people in the streets of Paris during a three-million-person-plus solidarity march there two weeks ago. The president stayed away even though there was no conflict with his schedule, apart from NFL playoff games, of course. And the president wisely saw fit not to send the vice president, his wife, or a member of his Cabinet to attend the rally, but rather sent as his representative the American ambassador to France. (Give yourself a gold star if you can name her without first googling her.)

For us lesser mortals, the president’s foreign policy–country by country, region by region, crisis by crisis–looks to be a disaster. But it turns out it’s actually a fantastic success. How do I know? Because “the smartest guy ever to become president” told us it is.

Read Less

Obama’s Yalta Syndrome

President Obama may have been hoping to get some momentum back last night with a stridently partisan campaign-style speech. But it appears the media are losing patience with this game, finally. Both NBC News and MSNBC’s commentators were incredulous over Obama’s interpretation of world affairs. And the New York Times’s chief White House correspondent Peter Baker dropped a dreaded phrase into his analysis of Obama’s conception of his foreign policy: “What he did not mention was that….”

Read More

President Obama may have been hoping to get some momentum back last night with a stridently partisan campaign-style speech. But it appears the media are losing patience with this game, finally. Both NBC News and MSNBC’s commentators were incredulous over Obama’s interpretation of world affairs. And the New York Times’s chief White House correspondent Peter Baker dropped a dreaded phrase into his analysis of Obama’s conception of his foreign policy: “What he did not mention was that….”

You know Obama’s having a tough run when the New York Times hits him with a yes, but. In this case, what Obama did not mention was that “Russia maintains control of Crimea, the peninsula it annexed from Ukraine, and continues to support pro-Russian separatists who are at war with Ukraine’s government despite a cease-fire that has failed to stop violence.”

Obama had been bragging about simply waiting Vladimir Putin out until the Russian economy started (or continued) to crumble. But Baker’s next sentence shows what is so unsound about Obama’s approach to foreign affairs: “Russia’s economy has indeed taken a huge hit, in large part because of the fall in oil prices, but so far Mr. Putin shows few signs of backing down.”

That, in fact, is what the divide is all about, because Obama considers that a victory while most of the reality-based community disagrees. To Obama, what happens to insignificant states–as he sees them, at least–isn’t important. This is a kind of great-power politics stripped of all nuance. It’s what someone who wants to practice great-power politics but doesn’t really understand international affairs would think constitutes such a policy.

To Obama, it’s the large states–or as he sees them, important states–that matter. Because Obama is a follower, not a leader, he gravitates toward the strong horse. He does not want to be in conflict with Russia, whatever that means for Russia’s ability to crush nearby states that the U.S. has promised to protect. Obama’s foreign policy suffers from Yalta syndrome.

And it’s the reason for what was really the centerpiece of Baker’s Times article on Obama’s unrealistic foreign policy: ISIS and the war on terror. Here’s how the article begins:

Under the original plan, this was to be the State of the Union address in which President Obama would be able to go before the nation and declare that he had fulfilled his vow to end two overseas wars. Only the wars did not exactly cooperate.

Mr. Obama pulled American troops out of Iraq in 2011 and ordered all “combat forces” out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But before he could seize the mantle of peacemaker in Tuesday night’s speech, the rise of a terrorist group called the Islamic State prompted Mr. Obama to send forces back to Iraq, and security challenges in Afghanistan led him to leave a slightly larger residual force.

The total American military commitment overseas has shrunk significantly since Mr. Obama took office, with just 15,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, down from 180,000 six years ago. The situation in both countries, however, is not as clean or as settled as the president had hoped. Instead of ending American wars abroad, he now faces the prospect of finishing his presidency in two years with at least one of them still unresolved.

Even that understates it just a bit, but it’s mostly on-target. If the president ended or almost ended the two long wars the U.S. military has been engaged in, why isn’t he a peacemaker? The standard answer, which is correct but not quite complete, is that ending a war isn’t the same thing as winning a war; if you leave the job unfinished, it will be almost impossible to credibly pretend otherwise.

But it’s also because of the particular age in which Obama was elected to be that very peacemaker. Terrorism has long been with us, but 9/11 did change our recognition of the threat and thus our posture toward it. Land wars feel like a relic–even though Russia is proving they still occur, and will continue to occur. Asymmetric warfare, however, is much more difficult to avoid, as events both in the U.S. and especially in Europe of late have shown.

The spread of ISIS has nudged Obama even more into the arms of the country he sees as the Muslim world’s strong horse: Iran. We are now aligned with Iran’s client in Syria, Bashar al-Assad, a man the president previously insisted must be deposed from power. And we are in pursuit of the same near-term goal in Iraq: the defeat of ISIS.

And Obama has made it quite clear he intends to kick the nuclear can down the road far enough for it to be his successor’s problem (just as he, to be fair, inherited it from his predecessor). What he doesn’t want is conflict with Iran. If that means chaos in Yemen and slaughter in Syria while Iran gets away with exporting revolutionary terror–well, it is what it is. And if that means Iran displacing some of the hard-earned American influence in Iraq–well, what can you do. And if that means continuing to consign Lebanon to Hezbollah’s control, or trying not to pay much attention to another of Iran’s enemies dropping dead in a foreign country–you get the point.

The Georgians watching South Ossetia apprehensively are paying attention. Surely so are the states in China’s near abroad. For that matter, Poland too is getting nervous. They know a Yalta when they see one.

Read Less

Obama Makes Clear: No Foreign-Policy Recalibration Coming

Listening to President Obama’s penultimate State of the Union address last night, I was more struck by what was missing rather than by what was included. The speech, naturally, featured a long wish list of domestic policy proposals (free community college, etc.) that have no chance of passing a Republican Congress. The president, as commander in chief, has more executive authority in foreign policy and yet foreign policy was by and large missing from the speech. By my count it consumed only 1,100 words out of a 6,800-word text–in other words, only 16 percent. It was sandwiched between domestic policy and global warming which are obviously areas that Obama feels much more passionately about.

Read More

Listening to President Obama’s penultimate State of the Union address last night, I was more struck by what was missing rather than by what was included. The speech, naturally, featured a long wish list of domestic policy proposals (free community college, etc.) that have no chance of passing a Republican Congress. The president, as commander in chief, has more executive authority in foreign policy and yet foreign policy was by and large missing from the speech. By my count it consumed only 1,100 words out of a 6,800-word text–in other words, only 16 percent. It was sandwiched between domestic policy and global warming which are obviously areas that Obama feels much more passionately about.

This focus is perhaps understandable given that the economy is looking up and Obama wants to claim credit, whereas there isn’t much to claim credit for in foreign affairs. Mainly Obama tried to claim credit for what he isn’t doing–“Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we’re partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America.”

This was, once again, a not-so-subtle dig at his predecessor, George W. Bush, and his current critics, such as Senator John McCain, implying that they are warmongers. The implication became even clearer in the section where he promised to veto further sanctions on Iran: “Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran, secures America and our allies, including Israel, while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.”

Obama is right that he has avoided repeating Bush’s mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead he’s made his own, allowing Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen to spin out of control. All of those countries are consumed in violent civil wars where America’s enemies, both Shiite and Sunni, are gaining ground. Obama was just flat-out wrong to claim that “in Iraq and Syria, American leadership, including our military power, is stopping ISIL’s advance.” ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State may be stopped in Iraq but it hasn’t been rolled back, much less “destroyed,” and in Syria it hasn’t even been stopped–it’s been gaining ground since the U.S. began dropping bombs back in August.

Not surprisingly Obama omitted any mention of Somalia or Yemen, which in September he had cited as a model for fighting ISIS. That model is looking like an Edsel amid recent reports that the Houthis, a Shiite militia backed by Iran, have overrun Yemen’s capital.

Nor, predictably, did Obama make any mention of Boko Haram, which has carved out its own Islamist caliphate in Nigeria much like the Islamic State caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Remember when Michelle Obama joined the hashtag campaign to #BringBackOurGirls? Neither does her husband. The girls are still missing, and Boko Haram has been killing thousands of people but it did not merit a mention in the address.

Also ignored was the U.S.-aided campaign to combat the homicidal Lord’s Resistance Army–a campaign that resulted in U.S. Special Forces capturing top commander Dominic Ongwen, but that has not led to the capture of Lord’s Resistance Army commander Joseph Kony who was the subject of another hashtag campaign (#Kony2012). In fact the only mention of Africa was a well-deserved shout-out “to our troops, our scientists, our doctors, our nurses and healthcare workers are rolling back Ebola, saving countless lives and stopping the spread of disease.”

Likewise Asia–once a key area for the administration, which touted its Pacific Pivot–all but disappeared from the address. No mention of “rebalancing” our military commitments–only an anodyne sentence about how “in the Asia Pacific, we are modernizing alliances while making sure that other nations play by the rules in how they trade, how they resolve maritime disputes, how they participate in meeting common international challenges like nonproliferation and disaster relief.”

Ultimately what was missing from the State of the Union is any hint that Obama is prepared to rethink the “lead from behind” policies that have diminished American power and made the world–especially the Middle East–a much more dangerous place. There was no sign that, a la Jimmy Carter, this president had been mugged by reality and would become a born-again hawk. Instead he sounded confident, energetic, even arrogant in defending his (failed) record. Any recalibration of American foreign policy, it is clear, is at least two years away. That’s a long time given how dangerous the world looks right now.

Read Less

Robin Hood Would Be an Improvement

Tonight, President Obama plans to announce some budget outlines in his State of the Union address. One of those goals will be to make a college education all but unaffordable to anyone but the wealthy. He won’t use those words, of course. But it puts the lie to the copycat “analysis” of the president’s cruel budget that he is somehow playing Robin Hood by taking from the rich to give to the poor. Though I generally don’t mind any analogy that correctly paints confiscatory taxes in the service of crony capitalism as theft, in this case the truth is that Robin Hood would be a vast improvement.

Read More

Tonight, President Obama plans to announce some budget outlines in his State of the Union address. One of those goals will be to make a college education all but unaffordable to anyone but the wealthy. He won’t use those words, of course. But it puts the lie to the copycat “analysis” of the president’s cruel budget that he is somehow playing Robin Hood by taking from the rich to give to the poor. Though I generally don’t mind any analogy that correctly paints confiscatory taxes in the service of crony capitalism as theft, in this case the truth is that Robin Hood would be a vast improvement.

The court stenographers at the Washington Post played along over the weekend, “reporting” on Obama’s State of the Union proposals by parroting talking points. The lede: “President Obama plans to propose raising $320 billion over the next 10 years in new taxes targeting wealthy individuals and big financial institutions to pay for new programs designed to help lower- and middle-income families, senior administration officials said Saturday.”

As is generally the case with this administration, the actual reporting had to be done by those outside the mainstream press. Ryan Ellis at Americans for Tax Reform explained five different tax increases sought by the president. And surprise, surprise–they don’t all target those who make up the richest of the rich and are therefore the Democrats’ cash piñatas.

The taxes include an increase in the death tax, proving that Democrats still adhere to Miracle Max’s advice that the only thing to be done with a man who is “all dead” is to “go through his clothes and look for loose change.” It will also include a bank tax that will be passed along to the bank’s customers, as well as a new tax on retirement savings. But the worst among them is probably the tax on education. (Morally speaking, the death tax is probably the “worst,” since organized grave robbing is generally frowned upon in the civilized world. The education taxes are the “worst” from the standpoint of their dishonesty and their burden on those least able to shoulder it.)

Here’s Ellis:

Under current law, 529 plans work like Roth IRAs: you put money in, and the money grows tax-free for college. Distributions are tax-free provided they are to pay for college.

Under the Obama plan, earnings growth in a 529 plan would no longer be tax-free. Instead, earnings would face taxation upon withdrawal, even if the withdrawal is to pay for college. This was the law prior to 2001.

This is remarkably grotesque policymaking, because of how it builds on the Obama administration’s general attitude toward paying for higher education. The federal student loan bubble has artificially inflated the cost of tuition. It doesn’t lower college costs, it merely defers them after increasing them. The government’s approach to paying for college is a loan racket that sees young people taking on mountains of debt to pay for the salaries of administrators and tenured professors.

The goal is not education, either, as much as it is about selling a piece of paper that has become a prerequisite for participation in much of the economy. In other words, while students are being sent to college ostensibly to get an education, the government sees it as a licensing scheme. If and when the bubble bursts, taxpayers will be on the hook for the inevitable bailout.

So it’s already an immoral status quo, held up and protected by liberal establishment politicians, like Obama. But Obama’s tax plan would make the system even less fair. Thanks to the government’s role in ballooning tuition costs, college savings accounts can be crucial to anyone who doesn’t have the disposable income to toss off tens of thousands of dollars a year per student.

So what does Obama do? He attacks the last bastion of college affordability, the savings account. In a follow-up piece at Forbes, Ellis notes that the tax change that made college savings accounts more advantageous were part of George W. Bush’s tax relief for the middle class. Ellis writes:

The 2001 tax law change which the Obama budget repeals resulted in an explosion of mass participation in 529 plans. According to the College Savings Network, taxpayers responded to the changes virtually overnight. Assets in 529 plans doubled from 2001 to 2002 (from $13 billion to $26 billion) and began their fast march to the quarter-trillion dollar level we see today. The total number of accounts grew from 2.4 million in 2001 to 4.4 million just a year later in 2002. There’s every reason to believe that taxpayers will snap back almost as quickly.

The good news is that Obama’s financial abuse of the middle class and poor has to pass Congress (at least until Obama discovers executive authority for that too). Congress is in the hands of the Republicans, but even many Democrats will balk at further blurring the boundaries between the modern welfare state and an organized crime syndicate. But it does give the country a glimpse into the cruelty awaiting them if Congress weren’t standing in the way.

Read Less

Needed: A Republican Agenda for the Middle Class

According to White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer, “middle-class economics” will be the “core theme” of President Obama’s State of the Union speech this evening. Mr. Pfeiffer, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, said, “I think we should have a debate in this country between middle-class economics and trickle-down economics and see if we can come to an agreement on the things we can do.” The president intends to do that by raising $320 billion in tax increases over the next 10 years targeting wealthy individuals and big financial institutions in exchange for, among other things, expanding the child care tax credit (not, as some media outlets have reported, a child tax credit) claimed by about 5 million families who use commercial day care. Despite being sold as an effort to help lower- and middle-income families, the number of middle-class people who would truly be helped by Obama’s plans is quite small.

Read More

According to White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer, “middle-class economics” will be the “core theme” of President Obama’s State of the Union speech this evening. Mr. Pfeiffer, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, said, “I think we should have a debate in this country between middle-class economics and trickle-down economics and see if we can come to an agreement on the things we can do.” The president intends to do that by raising $320 billion in tax increases over the next 10 years targeting wealthy individuals and big financial institutions in exchange for, among other things, expanding the child care tax credit (not, as some media outlets have reported, a child tax credit) claimed by about 5 million families who use commercial day care. Despite being sold as an effort to help lower- and middle-income families, the number of middle-class people who would truly be helped by Obama’s plans is quite small.

Republicans, if they’re wise, will not allow themselves to get boxed into being seen as simply defenders of the rich. In saying that, it doesn’t mean they should cave in to Obama’s demands to increase taxes on the rich or concede any arguments to the president, who is dogmatically committed to raising taxes even if doing so is economically harmful. (Recall that during a 2008 campaign debate, when asked by Charlie Gibson about his support for raising capital gains taxes even if that caused a net revenue loss to the Treasury, Obama sided with tax increases “for purposes of fairness.”)

But what Republicans need to do much more effectively than they have is to swing round the debate to terrain that is more favorable to them; to shift their attention on how they will help the middle class in ways much more far-reaching than what Mr. Obama has in mind. Fortunately a middle-class agenda exists in the form of Room to Grow: Conservative Reforms for a Limited Government and a Thriving Middle Class. This is a publication of which I was present at the creation and for which I wrote an introductory chapter, so I’m hardly a disinterested commentator on it. (Favorable takes by those who view this at more of a distance can be found here.)

People can decide for themselves the merits of the proposals it offers on tax reform, health care, K-12 and higher education, long-term unemployment, energy and regulatory matters, helping parents balance work and family, and strengthening marriage. But whether they like this agenda or not, we know that (a) the middle class is feeling anxious, insecure, and vulnerable; (b) those feelings are rooted in real circumstances and actual struggles; (c) many European countries now have more social mobility than the United States; and (d) in recent years middle-class adults are more likely to say the Democrats rather than the Republicans favor their interests. Given that the vast majority of Americans–85 percent–consider themselves part of an expanded definition of the middle class, this is a problem for the GOP.

My advice to Republicans at every level is to articulate how a conservative vision of government could speak to today’s public, and especially middle class, concerns–and to then show how such a vision would translate into concrete policy reforms in some of the most important arenas of our public life. That may sound obvious, except for the fact that it hasn’t really been done for some time.

Republicans are beginning to take steps in the right direction. Among the most promising is a plan laid out by Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio that would augment the current child tax credit of $1,000 with an additional $2,500 credit, applicable against income taxes and payroll taxes. (The credit would not phase out and would be refundable against income tax and employer and employee payroll tax liability; and it would also eliminate or reform deductions, especially those that disproportionately benefit the privileged few at everyone else’s expense.)

But more needs to be done, and a middle-class agenda has to be a consistent rather than episodic focus for Republicans. If President Obama’s State of the Union address succeeds in convincing Republicans to do this, he’ll actually have done them a favor. Because without it, Republicans are likely to lose the 2016 presidential election.

Read Less

End of an Error

On October 30, 2008, Barack Obama, sensing victory in the upcoming election, said with characteristic self-effacement that “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” A good many people (but not enough, alas) wondered why the most successful country in the history of the world needed to be transformed at all, let alone fundamentally.

Read More

On October 30, 2008, Barack Obama, sensing victory in the upcoming election, said with characteristic self-effacement that “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” A good many people (but not enough, alas) wondered why the most successful country in the history of the world needed to be transformed at all, let alone fundamentally.

Which is not to say that the country didn’t need reform in many areas, beginning with the federal government itself. It had not been reorganized since the Truman era, which predated the electric typewriter let alone the digital revolution. The barnacles of decades of congressional piecemeal action had produced a bloated, duplicative, inefficient mess. The budget process needed to be reformed in order to get control of the government’s finances. Social Security and other entitlement programs needed to be reformed before they went broke or bankrupted the country. The tax system had metastasized over the previous century into an incoherent, arbitrary, and deeply unfair quagmire that benefited only politicians’ reelection efforts and those able to make large political contributions to them in exchange for favorable treatment.

But Barack Obama sought reform in none of these areas, instead just pushing the tired old liberal agenda and for the most part getting nowhere with it. Instead of reforming the budget process, he and his Democratic allies in Congress totally ignored it and there has been, quite literally, no budget process for the last six years, just a series of continuing resolutions. His only reform for entitlement programs was to add a new one, pushed through Congress with the very old-fashioned use of political muscle over the howls of both the opposition and the people in general. ObamaCare remains deeply unpopular.

As for taxes, his one idée fixe has been to raise taxes on the rich, an idea that goes back to the 1840s. Consider his proposal regarding inherited property, to be unveiled in the State of the Union speech this Tuesday. It calls for heirs to inherit not only the property but also the original cost basis of the property, subjecting it to far higher capital gains taxes when the heirs sell it. As it stands now, the heirs’ cost basis is the price on the date of death.

But the heirs of large estates would have already paid as much as a whopping 40 percent under the estate tax, which is nothing more nor less than a capital gains taxes triggered by death instead of sale. Obama also wants to raise the capital gains tax to 28 percent, so the total tax take might be as high as 56.8 percent. But many capital assets, such as real estate and shares in a company founded by the decedent, are held for decades and the capital gains and estates taxes are not indexed for inflation.

So much of the value taxed away would be illusory, a tax on phantom gains. An investment worth $1 million in 1970 would have to be worth $6.1 million today for there to be any real gain at all. That won’t stop the president from calling his proposal “fair” and “the right thing to do.” It is, of course, neither, just the same century-old leftist, stick-it-to-the-rich boilerplate.

Fortunately these proposals have zero chance of getting through the new Republican Congress. Still, it’s going to be a long two years until January 20, 2017, a date that will mark what my new favorite bumper sticker calls ‘The End of an Error.”

Read Less

The Court Jesters

Easily the strangest moment in last night’s State of the Union address was when President Obama promised to ignore Congress and carry out his agenda without their legislative oversight or cooperation and was met with a hearty ovation from congressional Democrats. One possible explanation was that they weren’t listening, and responded to a vocal cue. Another is that they simply assumed it was their obligation to shower their king with praise.

But there’s actually a third explanation, which may be giving them too much credit but is also at least logical. Politico carries an interesting story today on the tension between congressional Democrats and Obama over the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare and its possible impact on the fall midterm elections. In the president’s address, he tried to ward off Republican attempts to undo the unpopular law by holding vote after vote to repeal it. Enough of those symbolic votes, Obama said: “The first forty were plenty. We got it.”

But it turns out that, as the Politico story shows, the president’s real problem on ObamaCare is not Republican opposition–which he can dismiss as partisan posturing–but the congressional Democrats:

Read More

Easily the strangest moment in last night’s State of the Union address was when President Obama promised to ignore Congress and carry out his agenda without their legislative oversight or cooperation and was met with a hearty ovation from congressional Democrats. One possible explanation was that they weren’t listening, and responded to a vocal cue. Another is that they simply assumed it was their obligation to shower their king with praise.

But there’s actually a third explanation, which may be giving them too much credit but is also at least logical. Politico carries an interesting story today on the tension between congressional Democrats and Obama over the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare and its possible impact on the fall midterm elections. In the president’s address, he tried to ward off Republican attempts to undo the unpopular law by holding vote after vote to repeal it. Enough of those symbolic votes, Obama said: “The first forty were plenty. We got it.”

But it turns out that, as the Politico story shows, the president’s real problem on ObamaCare is not Republican opposition–which he can dismiss as partisan posturing–but the congressional Democrats:

With the Democratic grip on the Senate coming down to at least six seats, the White House is extremely sensitive to the concerns of in-cycle Democrats. The administration hopes to use the president’s authority to assuage voter anger over the law, as it did recently by exempting volunteer fire departments from health coverage mandates.

In addition to Landrieu, who faces a tough reelection this year, the effort is also being organized by Heidi Heitkamp, who won a bruising battle in North Dakota last cycle. And the discussions include a spate of Democrats facing potentially difficult races this year, including Begich, Pryor, Mark Udall of Colorado, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Warner of Virginia and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

While the private discussions consist of several senators who are not running for reelection — namely freshmen Democrats like Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Tim Kaine of Virginia, and the independent Angus King of Maine — at least nine senators facing voters in the fall are discussing whether to push legislation or pressure the White House to make administrative fixes they can then flag to voters back home.

The issue is this: the president doesn’t really want to talk about ObamaCare, because until coverage expands the White House will continue to lose the battle of the anecdotes. The law, thus far, is creating more “losers” than “winners.” The expansion of coverage under the law may not fix that because of Medicaid’s manifold weaknesses. Additionally, unless the employer mandate is repealed, its suspension will come to an end and inflict plenty of pain on the economy. And people will continue losing the plans they like.

However, the president has the bully pulpit and everyone who needs insurance and gets it under ObamaCare can have their story trumpeted by the traveling salesman in chief. The government will also claim, on behalf of ObamaCare, more credit for expanding coverage than it warrants while keeping the real numbers hidden for as long as possible, the way central planners always must in order to hide their incompetence.

The point is, the White House wants time to catch up. But Democrats up for reelection in November don’t have that time. They want to talk about ObamaCare–specifically, they want to talk about fixing it. Obama doesn’t, because that would admit its faults and failures.

Going through Congress is also a political minefield for the president, because Republicans still control the House and have enough seats in the Senate to make Democratic votes count. The president may be willing to make certain fixes to the law, but he doesn’t want to lose control of it.

Democrats have reason to be wary as well. The reason Harry Reid has been chipping away at minority rights and ignoring Senate rules and traditions is so Democrats can be spared from taking difficult votes. Tossing ObamaCare back into the Senate would mean some of these Democrats may get the votes they want–but they may also be forced to take votes they don’t, and the last thing they want is to have yet another vote in support of ObamaCare heading into the midterms. (That’s why they’re in this predicament in the first place.)

But there is a solution: The president can ignore the law and Congress and adjust the legislation accordingly, no votes necessary. Congressional Democrats are comfortable with this because they don’t want something as trifling as the law of the land or the Constitution to get in the way of their reelection and continued empowerment. The president is comfortable with this because he considers Congress’s main responsibility to be to stand and clap for him when he insults them to their faces. Which is what they, and he, did at last night’s address.

Read Less

Forget “War Footing”; Can We Handle Peacetime?

It hasn’t gotten much notice, but President Obama’s State of the Union included the following pledge: “Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses and combat new threats like cyberattacks. And as we reform our defense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions.”

What the speech didn’t include was any mention of the defense budget, which makes the above pledge ring hollow. On the president’s watch Congress, with his approval, has implemented defense budget cuts that will eliminate roughly a trillion dollars in planned spending on the armed forces over the next decade. The recently passed budget deal negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray puts back a small amount of defense funding in the next two years–roughly $40 billion. But that’s a drop in the bucket of the overall deluge in budget cuts, which threaten to drown our military readiness.

A couple of news items this morning show what such cuts mean in practice.

Read More

It hasn’t gotten much notice, but President Obama’s State of the Union included the following pledge: “Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses and combat new threats like cyberattacks. And as we reform our defense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions.”

What the speech didn’t include was any mention of the defense budget, which makes the above pledge ring hollow. On the president’s watch Congress, with his approval, has implemented defense budget cuts that will eliminate roughly a trillion dollars in planned spending on the armed forces over the next decade. The recently passed budget deal negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray puts back a small amount of defense funding in the next two years–roughly $40 billion. But that’s a drop in the bucket of the overall deluge in budget cuts, which threaten to drown our military readiness.

A couple of news items this morning show what such cuts mean in practice.

Item #1: The Breaking Defense website reports that the Navy is down to 10 carriers even thought there is currently a demand for 15 carriers. The Navy has been trying to make up the gap by deploying carriers longer than ever at sea. “But,” the article notes, “the price was high: extra-long deployments, stressed-out crews, and overworked ships requiring extensive and expensive unplanned maintenance. Now the Navy has decided it just cannot get as much work out of the carriers it has — just as the budget cuts known as sequestration may leave it with fewer carriers.” That’s right, the Navy may never get back to its planned end-strength of 11 carriers, much less the 15 it really needs–and it may not even be able to afford 10.

Item #2: Military Times reports the Army “will likely flirt with being reduced to around 400,000 soldiers for the first time since before World War II.”

Similar cuts are being undertaken by the Air Force and Marine Corps.

In short, our military capacity is being greatly reduced–and the situation is even worse than it should be because, as Mackenzie Eaglen notes, Congress is frustrating Pentagon efforts to close more bases and cut back on the generous benefits being paid to veterans. Ballooning personnel costs, especially in health care, mean that even more must be cut from the funds needed for procurement, training, operations, and maintenance–and that translates into a looming, or perhaps already existent, readiness crisis.

Yet President Obama did not even mention this issue in the State of the Union. Instead he declared that “America must move off a permanent war footing.” That conjured up images of the U.S. demobilizing after the massive buildup of World War II when defense spending was over 37 percent of GDP and over 89 percent of the federal budget. Today the figures are, respectively, under 4 percent and under 20 percent–and falling fast. We are not, by any stretch, on a “war footing” today. Soon, if the current trajectory continues, we will not even be able to respond to the demands of peacetime military deployments, much less to fight a future war.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

Obama Still Needs Congress

“Sure, economists disagree among themselves about a number of public policy issues, but not about the desirability of free trade,” Cato’s Daniel Griswold wrote in 2009. Griswold was remarking on a survey of economists that gave further credence to the existence of a solid consensus on the benefits of free trade. That consensus, along with basic principles of economic liberty, has buttressed conservative and libertarian support to the point where the right is broadly pro-trade.

The left isn’t, in part because unions support protectionist trade barriers and liberals can’t resist the chance to tax something. That puts President Obama in a bind: he’s somewhere between congressional Democrats and Republicans on trade, so he wants a new trade deal but doesn’t want it subjected to Republican amendments or a Democratic veto. What he wants, then, is Trade Promotion Authority, also known as fast-track powers to strike a trade deal that would be ratified by Congress but not subject to amendment.

In this, he is obviously dependent on Republicans, since they are more likely to want a trade deal with either our European or Pacific allies. But supporting the president’s trade authority isn’t the same thing as supporting free trade. Normally, Obama would appear to have the upper hand: the more serious the reservations Democrats have about his trade plans, the more beneficial Republicans might see such a trade deal. In that, divided government and the two parties’ gap in support for trade would seem to work in Obama’s favor. But what if Democrats and Republicans both have the same concerns?

Read More

“Sure, economists disagree among themselves about a number of public policy issues, but not about the desirability of free trade,” Cato’s Daniel Griswold wrote in 2009. Griswold was remarking on a survey of economists that gave further credence to the existence of a solid consensus on the benefits of free trade. That consensus, along with basic principles of economic liberty, has buttressed conservative and libertarian support to the point where the right is broadly pro-trade.

The left isn’t, in part because unions support protectionist trade barriers and liberals can’t resist the chance to tax something. That puts President Obama in a bind: he’s somewhere between congressional Democrats and Republicans on trade, so he wants a new trade deal but doesn’t want it subjected to Republican amendments or a Democratic veto. What he wants, then, is Trade Promotion Authority, also known as fast-track powers to strike a trade deal that would be ratified by Congress but not subject to amendment.

In this, he is obviously dependent on Republicans, since they are more likely to want a trade deal with either our European or Pacific allies. But supporting the president’s trade authority isn’t the same thing as supporting free trade. Normally, Obama would appear to have the upper hand: the more serious the reservations Democrats have about his trade plans, the more beneficial Republicans might see such a trade deal. In that, divided government and the two parties’ gap in support for trade would seem to work in Obama’s favor. But what if Democrats and Republicans both have the same concerns?

That is where the president has found himself on the issue as of late, and it’s a mostly ignored but somewhat fascinating consequence of Obama’s obsession with usurping Congress’s authority. At the Weekly Standard, Irwin Stelzer explains:

Start with the particular president who is requesting this authority. He is no George W. Bush, to whom Congress granted such authority. President Obama has made it clear that he will enforce those parts of any legislation or treaty that suit him, de facto amend legislation without seeking congressional approval, and write regulations that order nonenforcement of laws he does not like. Congress refused to pass his Dream Act, so he ordered the authorities to treat illegal aliens as if it had; enforcement of Obamacare’s employer mandate at the date specified in the law became inconvenient, so he unilaterally postponed it; he has decided not to enforce the federal law against the sale of marijuana. There’s more, but you get the idea.

It is therefore not unreasonable to suppose that a provision in one of these trade pacts that benefits some industry or company that later fails to toe the presidential line or pay financial obeisance to Democratic campaign committees will disappear in a haze of bureaucratic rulings. In short, whatever the theoretical benefits of free trade, they must be weighed against increasing this president’s ability to exercise even more extralegal power over American businesses. One example: The Asia deal might include a concession from Japan to ease imports of made-in-America vehicles. It is not beyond imagining that the president will interpret that to apply only to the green vehicles of which he is so fond.

The discussion about the president’s plans to announce in his State of the Union address that he will continue taking executive actions in lieu of recognizing the existence of Congress has, appropriately, centered on the legality of the proposed actions. That is, can the president do that?

Another interesting question, and one raised by Stelzer’s piece, is: even if the president can take such action, should he? We often speak about the president’s executive actions as if the only downside to them is if they get overturned later on by the courts. But the trade conundrum in which the president finds himself suggests there’s another possible downside: neither party trusts him to follow the law.

This is a damaging assessment, and it is one that is generally independent of public opinion. And that is potentially more of an obstacle to Obama anyway. He is no longer running for reelection, so public support only gets him so far. And there are only so many actions the president can take on his own. At yesterday’s White House briefing, Jay Carney said the president would work with Congress where he can, and do the rest on his own: “this is not an either-or proposition. It’s a both-and.” Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, don’t seem to agree.

Read Less

Obama Is Jimmy Carter Without Camp David

Next Tuesday a lot of media attention will be focused on President Obama’s State of the Union address. It need not be.

As a general matter, State of the Union addresses poll very well immediately after they are given but have no lasting effect. I expect this speech will be no different.

The problem facing Mr. Obama right now is diminishing support in how Americans view his competence and character. For example, a new Quinnipiac survey found that a majority of Americans view President Obama’s White House as incompetent (53 percent v. 42 percent) while a plurality (49 percent) believe he isn’t honest and trustworthy. Nearly eight in 10 (77 percent) consider the economy to be “not so good” or “poor.” And only 36 percent approve of his handling of health care; 59 percent disapprove. A State of the Union speech is powerless to shift these perceptions in any meaningful way.  Read More

Next Tuesday a lot of media attention will be focused on President Obama’s State of the Union address. It need not be.

As a general matter, State of the Union addresses poll very well immediately after they are given but have no lasting effect. I expect this speech will be no different.

The problem facing Mr. Obama right now is diminishing support in how Americans view his competence and character. For example, a new Quinnipiac survey found that a majority of Americans view President Obama’s White House as incompetent (53 percent v. 42 percent) while a plurality (49 percent) believe he isn’t honest and trustworthy. Nearly eight in 10 (77 percent) consider the economy to be “not so good” or “poor.” And only 36 percent approve of his handling of health care; 59 percent disapprove. A State of the Union speech is powerless to shift these perceptions in any meaningful way. 

Moreover, the president conceded to the New Yorker’s David Remnick that he’s overexposed. People are tuning Mr. Obama out. His words have been dramatically devalued; he’s seen as a person who talks a lot but just isn’t up to the job. He is Jimmy Carter without Camp David. 

The State of the Union address is a political ritual. The speech–which is almost always too long, undisciplined, and unmemorable–commands more attention than it deserves. Mr. Obama and his party will be in as bad a shape after it’s been delivered as they were before.

Read Less

Mike Lee Makes It Interesting

There remains no good reason why American television consumers must endure the monarchical monotony of the president’s annual State of the Union address. It is usually unnecessary and intolerably dull, though sometimes, when we’re lucky, it’s simply unnecessary. (Say this for Richard Nixon: according to the American Presidency Project, one of his SOTU addresses clocked in at under thirty minutes, while another was not delivered at all, but written–the way it was and should again be. Meanwhile Bill Clinton’s final SOTU may still be droning on.)

As long as we’re subjected to the speech, however, the opposition party’s official response is logical: the response itself is of limited value, but it serves as a reminder that the president is not the king, merely an elected official. The response is also a PR minefield; no one ever gives a memorable response unless it’s memorable for the wrong reasons–a flat speech, or, as was the case last year, a desire for a drink of water that gave the media the distraction it was looking for so reporters didn’t have to pretend they were listening to the text.

But now there is a third speech of the night. And, surprisingly, it has defied the odds to become the only (possibly) interesting address of the evening. One of the major Tea Party groups has backed in recent years a Tea Party response. The reason it’s interesting is that, depending on the speaker, it is just as much a response to the (Republican) response to the State of the Union. The speech benefits from the lower expectations of this bronze-medal address and the tension between the Tea Party and what they consider the “establishment” party leadership. But there’s an extra boost to the interest in this year’s Tea Party response: it’s being delivered by Mike Lee.

Read More

There remains no good reason why American television consumers must endure the monarchical monotony of the president’s annual State of the Union address. It is usually unnecessary and intolerably dull, though sometimes, when we’re lucky, it’s simply unnecessary. (Say this for Richard Nixon: according to the American Presidency Project, one of his SOTU addresses clocked in at under thirty minutes, while another was not delivered at all, but written–the way it was and should again be. Meanwhile Bill Clinton’s final SOTU may still be droning on.)

As long as we’re subjected to the speech, however, the opposition party’s official response is logical: the response itself is of limited value, but it serves as a reminder that the president is not the king, merely an elected official. The response is also a PR minefield; no one ever gives a memorable response unless it’s memorable for the wrong reasons–a flat speech, or, as was the case last year, a desire for a drink of water that gave the media the distraction it was looking for so reporters didn’t have to pretend they were listening to the text.

But now there is a third speech of the night. And, surprisingly, it has defied the odds to become the only (possibly) interesting address of the evening. One of the major Tea Party groups has backed in recent years a Tea Party response. The reason it’s interesting is that, depending on the speaker, it is just as much a response to the (Republican) response to the State of the Union. The speech benefits from the lower expectations of this bronze-medal address and the tension between the Tea Party and what they consider the “establishment” party leadership. But there’s an extra boost to the interest in this year’s Tea Party response: it’s being delivered by Mike Lee.

The Utah senator combines the grassroots bona fides of other Tea Partiers with an energetic reform agenda–the latter being arguably more significant as the right seeks to find its way out of the wilderness. Ross Douthat, long a proponent of reform conservatism, notes that high-profile support for reform, such as that of Paul Ryan, has mostly gone nowhere, and adds:

Which is why the most consequential recent development for the G.O.P. might not actually be Chris Christie’s traffic scandal. It might, instead, be the fact that reform conservatism suddenly has national politicians in its corner.

The first is Mike Lee, the junior Senator from Utah, who has pivoted from leading the defund-Obamacare movement to basically becoming a one-stop shop for provocative reform ideas: in the last six months, his office has proposed a new family-friendly tax reform, reached across the aisle to work on criminal justice issues and offered significant new proposals on transportation and higher education reform.

The second is Marco Rubio, whose speech two weeks ago on the anniversary of the declaration of the war on poverty called for two major changes to the safety net: first, pooling federal antipoverty programs into a single fund that would allow more flexibility for state experiments; and second, replacing the earned-income tax credit with a direct wage subsidy designed to offer more help to low-income, single men.

The juxtaposition is noteworthy, because Rubio gave last year’s “official” GOP SOTU response despite rising to stardom as a Tea Party favorite, while Lee will give this year’s Tea Party response despite falling out of favor with some libertarians by advocating a community-minded conservatism with a focus on civil society.

Lee, then, has a foot in each camp. His hope is probably that he can blend the borders and blur the distinctions. What he’s more likely to find is that American conservatism was and remains a coalitional enterprise, and that he may not be granted the dual citizenship–Tea Partier and Establishmentarian–he seeks but rather be forced to choose.

That choice can be ignored at the moment because he is not considered an immediate prospective presidential candidate, which frees him up to shun either label and instead embrace reform. He also may combine elements of each in his response to the response to the SOTU. That means, strangely enough, that a vehicle established specifically for the purpose of elevating dissent within the ranks could be utilized to promote unity and consensus. That’s classic opposition-party behavior, of course, but Lee is clearly expecting–and planning for–a return to conservative governance.

Read Less

Obama’s State of the Union

The delivery of the annual State of the Union Address by the president is a high moment of state. But they have seldom been memorable, at least for the speech. Like most inaugural addresses, the next day they are used to wrap fish and forgotten. Indeed, in all my years of listening to them, I can only remember two lines.  In 1975, Gerald Ford’s first big line was, “The state of the Union is not good.” It was only the truth, but it was remarkably refreshing to hear it actually spoken. The second was 21 years later, when President Bill Clinton, having taken a shellacking in the mid-term elections that saw both houses of Congress in Republican hands for the first time since 1954, and a re-election to win, declared that “The era of big government is over.”

Bill Clinton, of course, has never suffered from an excess of ideology. I think he would come out in favor of a constitutional amendment against mom and apple pie if he thought it was a political winner. The same cannot be said for the president who will deliver the State of the Union Address tomorrow night. At his second inaugural speech two weeks ago, Obama delivered a sharply partisan, hard-left speech that said, only a little bit more indirectly, what the White House communications director said the next day, “There’s a moment of opportunity now that’s important. What’s frustrating is that we don’t have a political system or an opposition party worthy of the opportunity.”

Having devoted most of the inauguration speech to such tried-and-true liberal causes as gay rights and climate change—and gotten a fair amount of blow back even from usually reliably liberal media for its partisanship—the conventional wisdom among the chattering classes is that he will now pivot to jobs and the economy. But as Byron York points out, that’s what he is always about to do, he just never does it.

Read More

The delivery of the annual State of the Union Address by the president is a high moment of state. But they have seldom been memorable, at least for the speech. Like most inaugural addresses, the next day they are used to wrap fish and forgotten. Indeed, in all my years of listening to them, I can only remember two lines.  In 1975, Gerald Ford’s first big line was, “The state of the Union is not good.” It was only the truth, but it was remarkably refreshing to hear it actually spoken. The second was 21 years later, when President Bill Clinton, having taken a shellacking in the mid-term elections that saw both houses of Congress in Republican hands for the first time since 1954, and a re-election to win, declared that “The era of big government is over.”

Bill Clinton, of course, has never suffered from an excess of ideology. I think he would come out in favor of a constitutional amendment against mom and apple pie if he thought it was a political winner. The same cannot be said for the president who will deliver the State of the Union Address tomorrow night. At his second inaugural speech two weeks ago, Obama delivered a sharply partisan, hard-left speech that said, only a little bit more indirectly, what the White House communications director said the next day, “There’s a moment of opportunity now that’s important. What’s frustrating is that we don’t have a political system or an opposition party worthy of the opportunity.”

Having devoted most of the inauguration speech to such tried-and-true liberal causes as gay rights and climate change—and gotten a fair amount of blow back even from usually reliably liberal media for its partisanship—the conventional wisdom among the chattering classes is that he will now pivot to jobs and the economy. But as Byron York points out, that’s what he is always about to do, he just never does it.

George Bush devoted much of the first year of his second term to trying to reform Social Security. He got nowhere, of course, because the Democrats shamelessly demagogued the issue rather than engaged it. At least he tried to reach across the aisle in hopes of doing what needed to be done for the sake of the Union. After Obama’s inaugural address, it seems unlikely that he will even try to reach across the aisle. As Michael Barone explains:

Obama may be actually sincere in believing that every decent person with common sense would share his views. After all, just about everybody in the places he has chosen to live—Manhattan, Cambridge, the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago—does. Far from being an instinctive compromiser with respect for those with different views, he seems to be an angry non-compromiser with no idea how decent people could disagree with him.

Meanwhile, Ira Stroll has come up with an excellent suggested speech for Senator Marco Rubio, who will be giving the Republican rebuttal that is chockablock with attempts to reach across the aisle.

Read Less

SOTU Responses a 2016 Primary Preview

Political writers have come in for some not-unjustified criticism in the past few months for jumping the gun on the 2016 presidential race. With three years to go before the voters start voting and caucusing to choose the next Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, there is something to be said for keeping the horse race reporting about that long distant contest to a minimum. But on Tuesday night, it will be difficult to blame pundits for thinking ahead when two of the leading contenders for the GOP nod in 2016 will both be issuing official responses to the president’s State of the Union address. Florida Senator Marco Rubio will be delivering the official Republican response to President Obama immediately following the SOTU that will be carried by all the networks. But right after that, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will give the Tea Party response to the president in a talk that will be streamed on the website of the Tea Party Express group.

The idea of a Tea Party response to both the president and the Republican Party is a relatively recent addition to the ritual of the SOTU. But whatever the virtues of offering a third perspective to an American public that barely has the patience to sit through one speech, the only rationale for having Rand Paul respond to both Obama and Rubio is that he is hoping to exploit the opportunity to burnish his reputation as the true standard-bearer for the party’s base. Since both Rubio and Paul are products of the Tea Party and have stayed true to the movement’s principles on fiscal issues, the competition for the dwindling audience interested in Republican views late on Tuesday night must be considered the first debate of the 2016 primary season.

Read More

Political writers have come in for some not-unjustified criticism in the past few months for jumping the gun on the 2016 presidential race. With three years to go before the voters start voting and caucusing to choose the next Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, there is something to be said for keeping the horse race reporting about that long distant contest to a minimum. But on Tuesday night, it will be difficult to blame pundits for thinking ahead when two of the leading contenders for the GOP nod in 2016 will both be issuing official responses to the president’s State of the Union address. Florida Senator Marco Rubio will be delivering the official Republican response to President Obama immediately following the SOTU that will be carried by all the networks. But right after that, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will give the Tea Party response to the president in a talk that will be streamed on the website of the Tea Party Express group.

The idea of a Tea Party response to both the president and the Republican Party is a relatively recent addition to the ritual of the SOTU. But whatever the virtues of offering a third perspective to an American public that barely has the patience to sit through one speech, the only rationale for having Rand Paul respond to both Obama and Rubio is that he is hoping to exploit the opportunity to burnish his reputation as the true standard-bearer for the party’s base. Since both Rubio and Paul are products of the Tea Party and have stayed true to the movement’s principles on fiscal issues, the competition for the dwindling audience interested in Republican views late on Tuesday night must be considered the first debate of the 2016 primary season.

While the field of potential GOP presidential candidates is large and talented, Rubio and Paul are two of the most formidable. And though neither made as big a splash as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie did this week by eating a donut on the David Letterman show, with Rubio’s appearance on the cover of TIME magazine as his party’s “savior” and Paul’s foreign policy address at the Heritage Foundation, the Tuesday night match-up will heighten the impression that these two have already secured places in the top tier in the 2016 contest.

Paul’s insertion of himself into the SOTU speechifying is itself a bit of stretch if you consider that the idea of a Tea Party response was supposed to symbolize an alternative to the Republican establishment. Rubio was, after all, one of the movement’s success stories since he ran as a Tea Party insurgent against an establishment Republican in the 2010 Florida Senate primary and has stayed true to its credo by bucking the GOP leadership and voting against the fiscal cliff deal crafted by party leaders with Vice President Biden last month.

The main differences between Rubio and Paul are not on the spending and taxing issues that created the Tea Party in 2009 and 2010 in response to the Obama administration’s stimulus boondoggle and ObamaCare. They are instead about foreign policy. Rubio is an advocate of a strong defense and a robust pursuit of U.S. interests, including fighting the war on Islamist terrorists. Paul is moving away from the radical isolationism of his father to, as he stated in his Heritage speech, a stance that positions him as the candidate of the old GOP establishment “realists” that staffed the administration of the first President George Bush.

Paul is, as the New York Times reported today, the man who has inherited his father’s libertarian followers even as he also has tried to morph into a figure that the mainstream of the party can live with. That leaves plenty of room for disagreement with Rubio on issues where the latter is closer to mainstream Republicans, such as foreign policy issues like the alliance with Israel.

But the main differences between Rubio and Paul are about the latter’s appetite for massive cuts to the military via the sequester and military assistance to Israel (which Paul still opposes). On economic issues and entitlement reform as well as social issues and gun control, there isn’t much to choose between them. All of which leads us to wonder what exactly is the point of allowing Rand Paul to pose as the alternative to the official GOP response being delivered by a Tea Party stalwart except to highlight the personal rivalry between the two men.

We’ve a long way to go until the next presidential election, but no one should doubt that Tuesday night is the unofficial start to the 2016 race.

Read Less

Rubio’s Response: Risks and Rewards

When Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a whip-smart wonk and naturally competent executive, was tapped to give the Republican response to a February 2009 address by President Obama, it was considered something of an audition for a presidential run in 2012. The speech, however, bombed, and the presidential run never materialized. “Jindal’s Response to Obama Address Panned by Fellow Republicans” was the headline in the following day’s Bloomberg story on the speech, and one Republican strategist summed up the disappointment on the right when he told Bloomberg that “A lot of Republicans I am speaking with were expecting this would be like Obama’s moment in 2004”–the entrance of a star onto the national stage.

Jindal, of course, recovered from the speech just fine and went on to easily win reelection and continue to govern impressively in Louisiana. He retains his stature as a conservative reformer and leading light of the party, as well as a refreshingly intellectual and affect-free politician. A difficult entry into national politics is not the end of the world–just ask Bill Clinton, whose 1988 Democratic National Convention speech was a disaster. But it can dim the buzz around a rising political star and delay the moment when even a good politician finally gains national traction. So a cost-benefit analysis must be conducted by any aspiring political leader with the opportunity to respond to the president’s State of the Union speech, which this year will be given by Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Those wondering why Rubio accepted the address may have received an answer today when Quinnipiac released their latest public approval polling data:

Read More

When Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a whip-smart wonk and naturally competent executive, was tapped to give the Republican response to a February 2009 address by President Obama, it was considered something of an audition for a presidential run in 2012. The speech, however, bombed, and the presidential run never materialized. “Jindal’s Response to Obama Address Panned by Fellow Republicans” was the headline in the following day’s Bloomberg story on the speech, and one Republican strategist summed up the disappointment on the right when he told Bloomberg that “A lot of Republicans I am speaking with were expecting this would be like Obama’s moment in 2004”–the entrance of a star onto the national stage.

Jindal, of course, recovered from the speech just fine and went on to easily win reelection and continue to govern impressively in Louisiana. He retains his stature as a conservative reformer and leading light of the party, as well as a refreshingly intellectual and affect-free politician. A difficult entry into national politics is not the end of the world–just ask Bill Clinton, whose 1988 Democratic National Convention speech was a disaster. But it can dim the buzz around a rising political star and delay the moment when even a good politician finally gains national traction. So a cost-benefit analysis must be conducted by any aspiring political leader with the opportunity to respond to the president’s State of the Union speech, which this year will be given by Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Those wondering why Rubio accepted the address may have received an answer today when Quinnipiac released their latest public approval polling data:

Ms. Clinton’s favorability is higher than those measured for other national figures:

46 – 41 percent for Vice President Joseph Biden;

25 – 29 percent for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, with 45 percent who don’t know enough about him to form an opinion;

20 – 42 percent for House Speaker John Boehner;

27 – 15 percent for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, with 57 percent who don’t know enough;

34 – 36 percent for U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan;

43 – 33 percent for new Secretary of State John Kerry;

14 – 18 percent for Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, with 67 percent who don’t know enough about him.

Rubio’s numbers show that he is not well known nationally, but that those who do know enough about him to register an opinion tend to approve of him. This would have to be part of any of the senator’s calculations with regard to the State of the Union response. It is a difficult spot for any politician because the president is the leader of the free world conducting a tradition full of pomp and circumstance which puts this power dynamic on full display. It is also a long speech generally, which means those watching at home may be tired of listening to political speechmaking.

It can also be a difficult audience for the politician tasked with responding, because many viewers at home will not have had time to digest the speech and decide where exactly they come down on the policy facets of the address, and the response can be seen as abrupt. There is also the challenge of partisanship: the president will say a great many things that command broad public support, and will couch his policy prescriptions in aspirational tones meant to rise above the partisan fray (though President Obama is uniquely poor at this, given to taking cheap shots at both audience members and Republican figures working behind the scenes). As such, given the tension and rancor in Washington, there is always the danger of appearing ill-tempered and ungenerous at the wrong moment for the opposition politician who follows the president.

Yet there are also rewards to go along with the risks of appearing on such a stage. These include, prominently, the opportunity for a politician to introduce himself to the national electorate long before a debate-heavy primary process or general election in which both campaigns are inevitably jolted by an injection of negative advertising. The old adage about getting one chance to make a first impression is no less applicable to national politics. Letting your opponent define you can be among the most damaging mistakes to make in any election. The stakes are even higher for someone like Rubio, who tends to win over his audience–as the Quinnipiac poll shows.

Rubio’s summer appearance on “The Daily Show” was one such example of this, but so was his willingness to champion an immigration reform process vocally opposed by talk radio commentators like Rush Limbaugh and then impress Limbaugh enough to win his praise after appearing on Limbaugh’s radio show. If Rubio is truly contemplating a run for president in 2016, he is unlikely to pass up an opportunity to introduce himself, on his own terms, to as many American voters as possible.

Read Less

A Diminished Obama Strikes a Tepid Tone

President Obama launched his re-election campaign tonight with a State of the Union speech that attempted to conjure up the spirit of an earlier era of national unity even as he sought to focus national resentment on wealthy Americans and his political opponents in Congress.

With no record of accomplishment to his credit, other than the unpopular Obamacare and stimulus, Obama put forward a limited agenda of government intervention in the economy and the tax code in a laundry list of initiatives that did little to break new ground on any issue and was bereft of the passion and vision that drove his 2008 campaign for the presidency. All in all, it was 65 minutes that ought to worry Democrats more than it annoyed Republicans.

Read More

President Obama launched his re-election campaign tonight with a State of the Union speech that attempted to conjure up the spirit of an earlier era of national unity even as he sought to focus national resentment on wealthy Americans and his political opponents in Congress.

With no record of accomplishment to his credit, other than the unpopular Obamacare and stimulus, Obama put forward a limited agenda of government intervention in the economy and the tax code in a laundry list of initiatives that did little to break new ground on any issue and was bereft of the passion and vision that drove his 2008 campaign for the presidency. All in all, it was 65 minutes that ought to worry Democrats more than it annoyed Republicans.

The president knows he will get nothing passed this year, and his speech reflected that reality. He began and ended with the killing of Osama bin Laden. In between he spoke of a peace dividend from the end of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that he would use on building projects and green energy production. He called for a massive bailout of homeowners even as he pandered to public opinion by saying there would be no more bailouts for banks. He vowed to prosecute those responsible for the mortgage crisis and said teenagers would no longer be allowed to drop out of high school, no matter how much trouble they were causing. No mention was made of either Obamacare or the stimulus. Nor did he speak of the Keystone XL pipeline project that he cancelled. He called for lower taxes, less regulation and more exploitation of our natural resources even though he has raised taxes, increased regulation and made it more difficult for the nation to use more of its oil and gas and that of our neighbor Canada.

On foreign affairs, Obama spoke of victory in Iraq and Afghanistan and pretended he had increased Iran’s isolation rather than wasting three years on failed engagement and feckless diplomacy that gave the Islamist regime more time to build a nuclear weapon. He claimed to be Israel’s greatest friend even though he has used his time in office to pick constant fights with the government of the Jewish state. The shout out to wavering liberal Jewish Democrats betrayed an administration clearly worried about November.

The only substantive portion of the speech dealt with his desire to raise taxes on millionaires. Even if he got his way and raised the rates for millionaires to 30 percent it would do little to deal with the deficit or pay for the runaway costs of entitlements. But that isn’t really the point of his advocacy. Obama isn’t interested in raising those taxes to achieve an economic purpose. He has seized on this phony issue in order to exploit it politically this fall. For all of his talk about unity, his decision to let loose the dogs of class warfare rhetoric doesn’t so much seek division as to treat it as his golden ticket to re-election.

While Democrats may have been encouraged in recent weeks by the spectacle of Republican presidential candidates tearing each other apart, often employing the rhetorical devices of the left, they could not have been encouraged by the tepid tone and lack of vision in Obama’s speech. His unwillingness to speak about what he has done and instead concentrate on bashing the rich seemed to be more the strategy of a challenger rather than an incumbent.

His claim that America “is back” was empty braggadocio that makes little sense given the grave state of the economy. Obama’s rally cry about American greatness seemed stuck in nostalgia for a bygone era of massive government spending projects and an economy based in manufacturing rather than information and technology. The result of this empty talk was a speech that struck a sour, flat note just when he needed to inspire.

All of this should cause Democrats to worry just at the moment when they were starting to feel good about 2012. Though the president has many advantages heading into the campaign, including weak potential opponents, his inability to stand on his record and his loss of faith in the grand vision he ran in 2008 foreshadows serious problems later this year.

Read Less

Obama’s SOTU Borrowed from Other Famous Speeches

President Obama’s State of the Union on Tuesday was widely panned as “boring” by critics. But could the reason be because Americans have heard it all before?

U.S. News & World Report columnist Alvin Felzenberg argued that Obama’s speech was “tantamount to plagiarism” and that it “contained enough recycled ideas and lines lifted from speeches of others to make historians wince.”

And while it looks like that an overuse of clichés — as opposed to outright plagiarism — is responsible for the reused lines, Tuesday’s State of the Union does seem to have borrowed heavily from other famous speeches.

Here are some of the misappropriated lines, according to Felzenberg:

• Obama’s references to American as a “light to the world” were taken from Woodrow Wilson.

• The theme of the “American family” resembled Mario Cuomo’s proclamations of the New York “family” in 1993.

• At a 1991 speech in the U.S., Margaret Thatcher said that “no other nation has been built upon an idea.” Obama said something similar in his speech Tuesday.

• The reference to a “Sputnik Moment” channeled Dwight D. Eisenhower.

• By honoring “ordinary heroes,” Obama was taking a page from Ronald Reagan.

• Obama remarked that, “I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth,” which bears a striking resemblance to JFK’s assertion that “I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.”

It’s not unusual for politicians to quote or borrow from great historical leaders in speeches. But it’s noteworthy that Obama, who was supposed to be such a phenomenal communicator, is so reliant on the words of others. For all the rhetorical prowess attributed to him during the 2008 election, his speeches have consistently fallen short of public expectations since he’s taken office.

President Obama’s State of the Union on Tuesday was widely panned as “boring” by critics. But could the reason be because Americans have heard it all before?

U.S. News & World Report columnist Alvin Felzenberg argued that Obama’s speech was “tantamount to plagiarism” and that it “contained enough recycled ideas and lines lifted from speeches of others to make historians wince.”

And while it looks like that an overuse of clichés — as opposed to outright plagiarism — is responsible for the reused lines, Tuesday’s State of the Union does seem to have borrowed heavily from other famous speeches.

Here are some of the misappropriated lines, according to Felzenberg:

• Obama’s references to American as a “light to the world” were taken from Woodrow Wilson.

• The theme of the “American family” resembled Mario Cuomo’s proclamations of the New York “family” in 1993.

• At a 1991 speech in the U.S., Margaret Thatcher said that “no other nation has been built upon an idea.” Obama said something similar in his speech Tuesday.

• The reference to a “Sputnik Moment” channeled Dwight D. Eisenhower.

• By honoring “ordinary heroes,” Obama was taking a page from Ronald Reagan.

• Obama remarked that, “I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth,” which bears a striking resemblance to JFK’s assertion that “I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.”

It’s not unusual for politicians to quote or borrow from great historical leaders in speeches. But it’s noteworthy that Obama, who was supposed to be such a phenomenal communicator, is so reliant on the words of others. For all the rhetorical prowess attributed to him during the 2008 election, his speeches have consistently fallen short of public expectations since he’s taken office.

Read Less

After the Happy Talk: A $1.5 Trillion Deficit

According to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the federal budget deficit is on course to reach nearly $1.5 trillion this year, the biggest budget gap in history and one of the largest as a share of the economy since World War II. This year’s deficit would be the highest on record and would equal about 9.8 percent of the economy, the CBO said, slightly smaller than the 2009 budget gap, which at $1.4 trillion amounted to nearly 10 percent of the gross domestic product. The CBO forecast is on track to remain well above $1 trillion in 2012, the fourth year in a row. As a result, “debt held by the public will probably jump from 40 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2008 to nearly 70 percent at the end of fiscal year 2011.”

These numbers are alarming. And today’s report highlights just how irresponsible President Obama is by not seriously addressing our exploding debt, which means addressing our entitlement crisis, which means (above all) reforming Medicare.

Long after last night’s State of the Union happy talk is forgotten, these fiscal realities will still be with us. The president has a moral obligation to confront this problem rather than deny it, to deal with the world as it is rather than as he wishes it to be.

According to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the federal budget deficit is on course to reach nearly $1.5 trillion this year, the biggest budget gap in history and one of the largest as a share of the economy since World War II. This year’s deficit would be the highest on record and would equal about 9.8 percent of the economy, the CBO said, slightly smaller than the 2009 budget gap, which at $1.4 trillion amounted to nearly 10 percent of the gross domestic product. The CBO forecast is on track to remain well above $1 trillion in 2012, the fourth year in a row. As a result, “debt held by the public will probably jump from 40 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2008 to nearly 70 percent at the end of fiscal year 2011.”

These numbers are alarming. And today’s report highlights just how irresponsible President Obama is by not seriously addressing our exploding debt, which means addressing our entitlement crisis, which means (above all) reforming Medicare.

Long after last night’s State of the Union happy talk is forgotten, these fiscal realities will still be with us. The president has a moral obligation to confront this problem rather than deny it, to deal with the world as it is rather than as he wishes it to be.

Read Less




Pin It on Pinterest