President Obama, in putting forward an optimistic vision for the country’s future and lauding his stewardship of the economy and security over the past seven years, glossed over a number of trouble spots in his broad-brush State of the Union address Tuesday night.
While he dismissed the most urgent and heated warnings about the Islamic State by telling critics it’s not “World War III,” his own former CIA boss testified just hours earlier that the group is expanding far faster than Al Qaeda ever did and is now in nearly 20 countries.
While he said anyone who knocks the economy is “peddling fiction,” he did not acknowledge the fact that many Americans have settled for part-time work or given up searching. (The labor force participation rate has slid dramatically to just over 62 percent in the past decade.)
At the heart of the speech, the president was trying to present a hopeful view of the direction of the country, returning to the “hope” and “change” themes that won him office in 2008.
“Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word,” Obama said as he concluded the address. “That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.”
While both Obama and the Republican presidential candidates argue America’s best days are ahead – provided a candidate from their party is in office – his GOP critics saw the president skating over some very real problems in his final State of the Union remarks.
“He seemed to dismiss ISIS as not truly a threat to the United States, but I would argue that there is a valid threat out there,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, told Fox News on Wednesday. “He has to admit that it is a large problem.”
On Capitol Hill on Tuesday, former acting CIA director Michael Morell testified that, “ISIS has gained affiliates faster than Al Qaeda ever did.”
Morell said the group now poses a “significant strategic and lethal threat” to the United States, as well as Europe.
Obama, to undergird his argument on America’s stable security, said Tuesday that “the United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period.”
He did not, however, speak to the ongoing military cuts including Army plans to cut 40,000 soldiers over two years. Those cuts are tied to budget levels enacted by Congress.
On another front, Obama touted the Iran nuclear deal in his address.
“As we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war,” he said.
But he did not address the developing stand-off with Iran over a crew of U.S. sailors detained just hours before the address by Iranian soldiers. The crew apparently had drifted into Iranian waters, and was released the next morning, but it inflamed concerns on Capitol Hill over the nuclear deal itself.
“Even he must now realize that his diplomacy has not moderated Iran—it has emboldened it,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said in a statement Tuesday.
Obama also made passing reference to entitlements, saying Social Security and Medicare “are more important than ever” and “we shouldn’t weaken them, we should strengthen them.”
Gone was any mention on how entitlements – especially Medicare and an expanded Medicaid – are driving the growth of the country’s nearly $19 trillion national debt.
The Peter G. Peterson Foundation warned ahead of Tuesday’s speech that the long-term fiscal outlook is “unsustainable” and that interest on the debt alone is projected to become the “single largest federal program by 2040.”
The word “debt” was not mentioned once in the president’s speech.