THE STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS
WAS AN EXERCISE IN POLITICAL MAGIC
I’ve never much cared for the State of the Union Address. It’s a pointless dog-and-pony show that’s far off the mark of what the founders intended when they required the President to make a yearly report to Congress.
I’ve also never liked the idea of an opposition-party reply. SOTU is the President’s event (all those dogs and ponies notwithstanding). I think it’s unseemly that a spokesman for the out-of-power faction gets to leer earnestly into the TV camera and say, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” — which is basically what they always say, regardless of which party makes the SOTU reply.
Far better if they just stood up and called the President a liar to his face. Like the Brits do, yelling back and forth across that big table on the floor of Parliament (of course it all sounds very gentlemanly when it’s done in a proper, upper-class English accent).
But then, deception (a somewhat kinder word than lying) is the very essence of the State of the Union. Slight of hand. Kind of like a magic show where a flourishing hand gesture distracts you from noticing how the illusion is created.
For example, President Obama made large claims that his policies have improved the economy. If so, those improvements have come in very select areas with a lot of qualifying footnotes.
Take job growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that…
“total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 252,000 in December, and the unemployment rate declined to 5.6 percent….”
But Reuters notes that…
“The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits last week increased to the highest level since early September….”
Just which fact is the distracting gesture and which is the core of the illusion?
As for the rest of the economy? I strongly suspect…
- The only thing holding up the stock market is the Fed’s promise not to raise interest rates.
- Falling oil prices — with their beneficent effects at the gas pump — are an Arab slight-of-hand aimed at making it unprofitable for U.S. firms to finish the Keystone pipeline.
There was ample deception on display in the SOTU. Perhaps the most cynical was highlighting Rebekah Erler, a Minnesota woman whom, we were led to believe, the President’s policies had aided in overcoming some formidable economic difficulties. The Washington Free Beacon reports that this poor, over-stressed lady seated next to Michelle is really…
“a former Democratic campaign staffer and has been used by Obama for political events in the past.”
Hey, if your policies can’t help your own people, who can they help? And anyway, it’s all done with mirrors.
The main thrust of Obama’s message was soaking the rich — essential to paying for his proposed initiatives, especially those hoards of eager, highly motivated kids who’ll be tramping off to community college on the federal dime.
A relative of mine who teaches at a community college (and who shall remain unidentified), tells me she has very low expectations of those eager, highly motivated kids. She knows them well. They sign up for her course as a condition of collecting various government benefits. They never show up for class, drop out just before the deadline by which they would fail and lose those benefits, then repeat the practice semester after semester.
By the way — those new taxes proposed by the President to pay for his ambitious menu of programs? They are, of course, intended help even out the income disparities that have been getting enlightened liberal thinkers all in a lather.
There’s a problem with this, however.
What happens after you’ve eliminated disparities by confiscating the wealth of rich people (those rich people who aren’t Democratic Party donors, of course)? Conservatives like to point out that folks in the upper income brackets pay most of the taxes already. But actually, this doesn’t quite tell the story.
In December of 2013 a piece from CNBC observed that…
“Buried inside a Congressional Budget Office report this week was this nugget: when it comes to individual income taxes, the top 40 percent of wage earners in America pay 106 percent of the taxes. The bottom 40 percent … pay negative 9 percent.
“You read that right. One group is paying more than 100 percent of individual income taxes, the other is paying less than zero.”
Well, it’s only money, and who’s counting?
Rabbinical scholars insist that when studying Torah and Talmud, you must understand that what sacred writings don’t say can be as important as what they do. That’s a useful clue to deciphering the State of the Union Address. There was quite a lot President Obama didn’t say.
Fox News’ Ed Henry noted that…
“absent from Obama’s address was any mention of the national debt.
“And, in a break from past addresses, he made no call for reforming entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, the latter being a major driver of deficits and debt.”
Not that anybody noticed…
“Instead, [Obama] pointed to those programs as models for how the government protects Americans from ‘adversity’ and examples of the kind of ‘middle-class economics’ he supports.”
You can ask former Democratic Party operative Rebekah Erler about that. She’s in the middle class.
How can it be that, just a few weeks after a mid-term election that clearly demonstrated a profound loss of appetite for the Democrats’ progressive agenda, Obama would offer such a smorgasbord of liberal, something-for-everybody proposals?
Writing in The Atlantic, Canadian-American political commentator, David Frum (who was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush) speculates that in his last two years Obama is determined to push the Democratic Party even farther to the political Left…
“At some deep level, Obama’s entire project has been a reply, not to Republican conservatism but to Democratic neoliberalism. Now, as his presidency nears its close, the wife, heir, and namesake of the leader of the neoliberals [we’re talkin’ about Hillary and Bill here] has emerged as the overwhelming favorite to lead the Democratic Party in 2016.”
Assuming that Hillary is the nominee, and eventual winner, Obama wants to…
“force Hillary Clinton to campaign and govern on his terms.”
Looked at from that point of view, the entire State of the Union Address was the distracting hand gesture, and the real trick is coming in 2016.
(NOTE: With the revisions in my blog format, you can now link to articles by clicking on the media logos.)
The Associated Press fact-checked the SOTU, finding some of the President’s claims not quite kosher — his self-congratulations on the economy, for instance…
“Job growth has been healthy, but fueled in part by lower-paying jobs in areas such as retail and restaurants, which have replaced many higher-paying positions in manufacturing and construction. Part-time jobs also remain elevated: There are still 1.7 million fewer workers with full-time jobs than when the recession began in December 2007.”
NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel ripped Obama — on camera — over his delusional interpretation of our ongoing war on terrorism…
“It sounded like the president was outlining a world that he wishes we were all living in….”
Writing in the American Spectator, the irrepressible Emily Zanotti listed “Ten Things You Missed (or Wished You’d Missed)” in the President’s speech. Known from her “American Princess” blog for unique blendings of political commentary with high fashion/pop culture insight, she observed that…
“…President Obama followed up on his declaration of complete global peace by verbally antagonizing Vladimir Putin, but stopped short of issuing a shirtless photo of himself on a horse….”
Here’s a link to David Frum’s Atlantic essay positing that Obama intended to stack the deck for Hillary’s bid by removing the slightest uncertainty about the Democrat’s commitment to Progressivism…
“Of course, Hillary Clinton can see all this, too. So can Bill Clinton, perhaps even more acutely. The next fascinating question is: what will they do about it?”
Finally, Investor’s Business Daily points out a nice bit of irony in one of the SOTU’s most glaring omissions…
“The major — and even in some years the sole — driver of growth in employment and output since 2009 has been the shale oil and gas boom. Those most responsible for America’s energy revival have been Floyd Farris, inventor of hydraulic fracturing, and Harold Hamm, the driller who put the technology into action in North Dakota, creating tens of thousands of jobs. Funny, but neither were showcased guests at the State of the Union.”
Blogger and Ave Maria Radio colleague Kathy Schiffer summed up the State of the Union Address on Facebook by quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson…
“The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”
There’s a certain kind of magic in that.