February 13 2013

A "West Wing" SOTU

Charlotte Hays

President Obama delivered a State of the Union address last night that was warmed over Obama, thoroughly divorced from reality—both foreign and domestic—and probably a big hit with his base. Speaker of the House John Boehner looked glum throughout the SOTU and one can hardly blame him.  

Like John Podhoretz, I heard last night a “liberal fantasy of a State of the Union straight out of 'The West Wing,'” set in a world where government—make that “smart government”—solves our problems. (If you have trouble with the link, it is worth going to the New York Post website to read Podhoretz's column in full.)

Let me get right away to the line that jumped out at me:

We cannot cut our way to prosperity….

But we can. The president is wrong. Cutting spending is the only way we will escape the current stagnation and again see the kind of prosperity Americans once took for granted. Federal spending, with the burdensome taxes and insane borrowing required sustain it, is the main impediment to economic growth.

The next battle in Congress over spending will be over the sequester, across the board cuts triggered if Congress can’t reach agreement over spending. And here you really have to hand it to President Obama: he did something very clever, if distressingly dishonest, last night. He painted Republicans as the party of sequester, even though the idea for sequester came from the White House.

Specifically, as Bob Woodward reported, Treasury Secretary nominee Jack Lew came up with the idea of sequester. It’s a horrible idea, but, since it may be the only way to cut government, it is better than most possible alternatives. It’s no wonder that Speaker Boehner looked so unhappy last night.

Whopper of the night: “Nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.” That is not true. Does the president know it’s not true? Discuss among yourselves.

Still, the president does have some nifty ideas to boost the economy, none of which are free and none of which sound very effective. A Wall Street Journal editorial sums them up:

Not enough job creation? Have the feds set up 15 new "manufacturing hubs" where business can get government advice.

Decaying public works? How about a "Fix-It-First" plan to pay the unemployed to repair roads and bridges? Thus do the "shovel-ready" stimulus projects of the first term become the "most urgent repairs" of the second.

Lousy K-12 results? Have the feds finance pre-school for "every child in America." A government study only recently found that any benefits from the current pre-school program, Head Start, wear off by third grade. But he'd still make it a universal entitlement.

Not enough money to subsidize electric cars or more Solyndras? Create a new Energy Security Trust, funded by taxing oil and gas companies.

Not all women earn as much money on average as men? Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act so government can unleash the trial lawyers to enforce equal pay.

Just FYI: Unemployment among women is 7.8 percent, and it will remain high until we have less interference from Washington.

Since the economy is so rotten, the president relied on some base pleasers for applause lines: gun control, homosexual rights, and of course putting women in combat.

The foreign policy segment was as unmoored from reality as the domestic section. The president said—just to note one moment—that North Korea’s recent nuclear adventurism further “isolates” the country. Does he really think they care? Does he not know that isolation is essential to the survival of that monstrous and starving little kingdom?

During the foreign policy section, I could not shake the image of a president shamefully derelict in his duties the night of the Benghazi attack. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the first U.S. ambassador to die in the line of duty in three decades, and those who died with him that night were not even remembered in the SOTU. This was both surreal and troubling.

Podhoretz has the last word on the SOTU:

[The president] is either lying through his teeth or believes every word of it. Hard to say which would be worse. Too bad he didn’t propose a Hub on Dimes and Deficits last night to figure it out.

One bit of advice: the party out of power might consider dropping the response to the SOTU. Senator Marco Rubio, who did it last night, didn’t wreck himself on the SOTU shoals the way Governor Bobby Jindal did when he performed the task five years ago.  

But Rubio made the exact same mistake Bobby Jindal did: he seemed to regard replying to a sweeping and wrong-headed policy speech as primarily an autobiographical moment. Rubio, like Jindal, has a great immigrant story and the GOP is right to want to tell it. But it is not the way to begin a rebuttal to a policy speech. Rubio made some excellent points and he could have told his personal story a bit later in his remarks. Unlike me, Jonathan Toobin of Commentary found Rubio's performance, aside from the dry mouth, impressive.

But it is very difficult to reply to a speech you've just heard, one which has been vetted and rehearsed. Republicans would do well to reply the next day, though the press would call this cowardly. So what?

 

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