It was a surprisingly boring State of the Union address delivered by President Obama Tuesday night. Sixty-five minutes and interrupted eighty-five times for applause, always by the loyal of his own party, the speech that the White House tried mightily to proclaim as not a campaign speech was, in fact, just that.
It was to be expected, this campaign speech. All presidents do it. This White House just wants to use the smoke and mirrors efforts of trying to describe Barack Obama as a different politician. He has proven to be anything but different. I would argue that he is so much more of a run of the mill politician and not so skilled at it, at that. Consider how divided the parties are and remember that leadership comes from the top and sets the tone.
The "Date Night" nonsense continued as about one hundred members of Congress sat with those from the other side of the aisle. It is silly, to be sure, and did nothing last year to promote goodwill between the two parties. This White House is all about the theatrics. No doubt there are those in Congress who are up for re-election themselves and don't truly understand that voters are just not buying it.
Rep Gabby Giffords was there, as her last act as a sitting Congress member. Wednesday she will resign from office to continue on with her physical recovery in Houston. She rightfully received a standing ovation from her colleagues and the president made quite a show of going to her and hugging her as he entered the House floor. Giffords, by the way, was sitting next to her Arizona colleague, Rep Jeff Flake, a Republican. Her husband, Mark Kelly, was seated with the First Lady. He is rumored to be considering his own political run.
Though Speaker Boehner continues to say he has a cordial relationship with the president, he also noted that the two have not spoken for more than a month. Both he and Vice President Biden, sitting behind the president, were sedate and rarely applauded the speech. Several times I noticed that Biden looked as though he was fighting off a nap.
The theme was clearly one of inequality. The president tried to paint himself as the defender of the 99%, as the protector of the middle class. Same old, same old.
Obama opened with references to the military and the service of our nation's heroes. He spoke of the last troops in Iraq coming home and troops beginning to leave Afghanistan. He spoke of the death of Osama bin Laden, while being careful not to boast. That is important to his re-election efforts because he was one of the Democrats who enjoyed criticizing George W. Bush as running on re-election on the back of the war in Iraq and 9/11/01.
"Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example", he said of the unselfish devotion to country that the members of the military exhibit.
A catch phrase used was "built to last". He said that America is built to last and must re-build our manufacturing base for employment recovery. "What's at stake is not Democratic values or Republican values. It's American values." That line once worked for the man but rings hollow now. He has proven to be a president incapable to put his own politics aside and work with Republicans.
"The State of the Union is getting stronger." Weak tea coming from the man who was trying to instill a sense of optimism from the audience. His approval numbers remain low and consumer confidence numbers plunged to all time lows under his guidance. It will take more than some nice words, it will take real courage and leadership, to get us back on track. There are no illusions that this will happen in an election year.
He challenged business owners to "ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country". It will take tax reforms and a business friendly atmosphere that has been destroyed under his leadership, though. Business leaders cannot do it alone.
The usual favorite enemy of Barack Obama - Big Oil - surfaced a couple of times. Though he claimed to want to promote American energy - thus far failing to do so in his White House reign - he boasted that he has opened more land to drilling than ever before. That is a shady claim, as most oil is drilled on private lands and they have suffered from increased regulations. He said American oil production is at the highest level in eight years - a zing to President Bush, of course, yet that is due to shale oil production which is not regulated as offshore and land drilling is. He conveniently didn't mention that fact. He claims to want an "all of the above" approach to American energy though his policies continue to attempt to destroy oil and natural gas exploration in our waters offshore. There was no Keystone Pipeline reference. He said "I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy". Who asked him to do that? Those in the energy sector all want an "all of the above approach".
Obama, king of the straw men.
He claimed to want to reduce regulations for small business yet his administration brought about the increased regulations to begin with, especially those that will burden business under Obamacare.
He wants to encourage businesses with incentives to upgrade their buildings, to save energy and create jobs doing the renovations. It's a small ball approach to a federal jobs program. His signature stimulus spending bills are still hugely unpopular and have mostly failed. Unemployment was promised to not exceed 8% when the public was expected to go along with his first stimulus package. How'd that work out?
He promoted a huge new federal program to allow homeowners who are current on their mortgage payments to be allowed to re-finance their mortgages at new low rates, with a $3,000 tax deduction to boot.
He claims he has signed less new regulations into effect than former President Bush though he didn't mention that his regulations are wider sweeping and destructive to business development while Bush saw consistent economic growth until the collapse of the economy brought on mostly by the housing bubble - which began in the Carter administration and bad public policy encouraging cheap mortgages to people who couldn't afford them.
He put colleges on notice that if tuition cost continue to go up, federal assistance will go down. He wants those students here illegally due to decisions made by their parents to have a chance to become citizens. He wants more foreign students here on visas to remain in country and not return home to use their education elsewhere.
He wants to establish a Financial Crimes unit to make harsh penalties sick to those who commit fraud. No one believes this will be done but it was a talking point he wanted to make.
He still speaks of tax hikes for "millionaires and billionaires" and used the secretary to Warren Buffett, who sat next the the First Lady as a prop, to bolster his "Buffet Rule" - those making over $1 million per year should pay 30% in taxes with no tax subsidies or deductions.
He wants a bill to ban insider trading in Congress. He wants campaign donation bundlers to be banned from lobbying Congress. Ah, election year conversions.
He wants all nominees to receive a straight up or down vote within 90 days of the nomination. He would also like to end the super majority rules in Congress which require 60 votes in the Senate to pass legislation. He wants a bill to consolidate federal bureaucracies. This, from the guy who exploded the rate of federal expansion and has a record number of "czars" in his administration.
He ended as he began - referencing the military. "I will take no options off the table" in reference to Iran and the development of nuclear weapons. He tried to emphasize this "iron clad commitment to Israel" by repeating the claim. He said that America is held in higher esteem overseas than in recent years. Another jab at George W. Bush. He wants to continue to increase benefits to veterans. He promotes tax credits to businesses who hire veterans.
It was a rather boring speech. It was less partisan than recent speeches with no sweeping generalities, only tweaks here and there. It was small ball as a heavy nod to the fact that he would like another term as president. There was no real vision expressed other than calls for unity in general.