By Kelly Sloan
In what many hope was his last State of The Union address, President Obama offered listeners a campaign stump speech, the relevant parts of which were by turns contradictory, reductionist, and, ultimately, meaningless.
The first characteristic to stand out in the President’s speech was its overtly political nature – it was a clear campaign trail appeal, as opposed to an update on the national condition, the sort that most re-election-year presidents feel compelled to give. It was not overtly partisan, or at least less so than earlier speeches, except when he wanted it to be. And it carefully avoided or sidestepped … well, the last three years.
Obama is facing re-election this year with a record that is at best dim; unsustainably high unemployment, atmospheric levels of national debt, anemic growth, the national credit downgrade, and the clear failure of major policy initiatives such as healthcare reform and the stimulus package, to cover the high points on the domestic side.
In terms of foreign policy, a general continuation of the previous administrations wiser policies resulted in a handful of victories — such as the death of Osama Bin Laden – but an overall weak and shiftless approach to world affairs has created far more problems for America, including, despite the Presidents incredulous claims to the contrary, a strengthening of Iran’s alliances with countries such as Russia, Turkey, and Venezuela.
So Obama sought to use the SOTU as an opportunity to try and re-brand himself. I don’t necessarily begrudge him that – it is simply a feature of election year politics.
Other aspects of the speech were, however, more disappointing. One was the contradictory strain that carried throughout the address.
At one point in the speech, for instance, the President attempted to claim credit for a revival of American auto manufacturing, heaping praise on the auto industry bailouts, (forgetting apparently that Ford, which he mentioned as an example, neither asked for nor received any government money), and then, minutes later, remarked, “It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts.”
He spoke about the need for America to rely less on overseas oil, and the importance of energy jobs, only days after arbitrarily halting the Keystone pipeline project. He spoke of not begrudging financial success, and then proposed tax policies that would punish and prevent it. He spoke of the need for Americans to unite as one, and then launched into his class-warfare rhetoric, in what was the most passionate part of the entire address.
That, in fact, was its most regrettable feature. The speech, like the tone of the past several months, was an exercise in reductionism, diluting the dialogue into a false and simplistic “us vs. them” formulation.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the question of taxation. The so-called Buffett “rule” is pure economic sophistry. The 30 or so percent rate that Mr. Buffett’s ostentatiously present secretary reportedly pays is a wage based income tax. The much maligned 15% rate is a capital gains tax levied on investment income, which – a crucial point conveniently not mentioned by the President, Buffett, or their allies – has already been taxed once as either corporate or personal income, at the relevant rate, placing the real effective rate on that income in the neighborhood of 45%. Which, for my dear liberal readers, is higher than 30.
Obama’s proffered “solution” to this fallacious problem is to raise the capital gains tax by double. Contrary to a sane tax policy that would encourage such things as growth and investment, this is a direct tax on them. Raising that tax would invigorate nothing but the onset of an even worse economic catastrophe.
President Obama knows this. He also knows that in this election year with a Republican led House, and many Democratic Senators at risk politically, none of his ridiculous and dangerous ideas will ever find their way to his desk. He can get away, therefore, with making such irresponsible statements as campaign gimmicks.
The President said at one point, evoking President Lincoln, that “Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.” The problem is that he does not think the American people are capable of doing much for themselves. It is this distrust of the American people that fuels his speeches, his presidency and his reelection campaign. He is banking on a plurality of American voters remaining economically illiterate long enough to keep him in the White House.
Otherwise, this might very well have been his final State of the Union.