Published January 24, 2012
Don't worry, America. There's nothing that ails this country that can't be made right by a catalogue of piddling proposals that will be forgotten tomorrow--and oh yeah, more taxes on the rich. Such was the message of President Obama's State of the Union address.
It made Bill Clinton's notoriously endless lists of poll-tested banalities look like artistry by comparison. It was light and forgettable, so insubstantial it could have floated off the teleprompter. It was spend more here, create a new program there, carve out a new subsidy in the tax code over there--and repeat as necessary, for over an hour.
The president steered clear of some of the nation's gravest domestic questions. You would never know we are accumulating debt at a $1.3 trillion annual clip. You would never know that health care costs are soaring and a vast political and constitutional fight is ongoing over his health care law (mentioned once, only very briefly, in passing). You would never know that Medicare and Social Security will soon be groaning under the coming wave of baby boomer retirements. You would never know the tax code is a hideously complex, economically inefficient monstrosity.
All of that was left aside, so the president could strike an uplifting, inoffensive tone proposing a raft of superficially unobjectionable new government actions. It was one thing for Bill Clinton to take this tack in the late 90s when the economy was roaring. It was evasive and irresponsible for President Obama to do it now in our current straits.
Yet, it could have been worse. I was expecting an "Occupy" State of the Union, an address so dependent on the themes of the anti-Wall Street protests that you could almost hear the drums and smell the body odor. Yes, he invoked fairness and he devoted a passage to calling for more taxes on the rich, with the obligatory invocation of Warren Buffet's secretary, sitting beside Michelle Obama. But this didn't define the speech, which struck a more upbeat tone. The president rightly hailed the killing of Usama bin Laden, noted the signs of economic recovery and forcefully pushed back against the notion of American decline. It wouldn't strike most people as a particularly divisive or partisan speech.
It was cynical all the same. The president piled cliches ("teachers matter"), on top of nice-sounding new initiatives (a Trade Enforcement Unit, a Financial Crimes Unit), and insincere bows to the other side (like a call for regulatory restraint after signing the regulatory behemoths of Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial bill). This was not the speech of a president interested in anything other than the politics of his re-election--yet another way in which it wasn't noteworthy.
Rich Lowry is the editor of the National Review and a syndicated columnist. He is a Fox News contributor.