Despite soaring, focus group-tested verbiage, the State of the Union speech left Barack Obama grounded. He was a politician, not a saint. He was flat, undramatic, unfocused, tired.
The speech was light on good deeds, or any real deeds at all. After a year of painful economic dislocation, he has few accomplishments to mention. There certainly wasn’t any accomplishment to speak of regarding the White House’s holy grail, health care reform.
But the speech also had few genuinely wise sayings. This address will not change the pollster calculus showing the president facing a steady, downward drift.
“We can deliver!” was the best he could give the people. It certainly seemed like an empty promise, coming as it did after a full year of broken promises, national pain and misery, bailouts, government takeovers, backroom deals, stalled 2,000-page health care bills, and persistent unemployment.
“We can deliver!” It addresses the future, not the past. A direct admission of defeat by a once invincible political warrior.
Unspoken were the missed opportunities by a young, rookie administration that entered office with great promises of hope, post-partisan comity, and centrist-oriented accomplishment.
He called for a new “jobs bill,”but a question hung over the chamber. Was it too little, too late? It amounted to a $30 billion payoff to the liberal world who love community banks, the only “good” banks in America. That was chump change in comparison to the invisible and largely ineffective $787 billion stimulus bill, which did keep unemployment below 8%, er no, 10%. His proposed $80 billion second stimulus bill did not open many champagne bottles in the Capitol.
The promise of high-speed transit, green jobs, and rebates to homeowners seems a rather feeble program.
“I want a jobs bill without delay,” the president implored. After a year of his own inaction on job generation?
The speech was a hodgepodge of ideas, cut and pasted to a Word doc. It was a speech of shrinking visions.
SOTU speeches tend to be like that, with different special interests, departments, and cabinet officials all vying to have the president include a message to some special group. It sucked all the vitality out of this speech — so many promises instantly meaningless after Obama delivered them.
He called it “health insurance reform.” Huh? After a scorched-earth debate over a government takeover of health care, his idea of victory is to seek insurance reform? Now this really is a shrinking vision.
Another one: cap-and-trade legislation. It was invisible last night. The reference to climate change was vague. But he did endorse nuclear power, more oil and natural gas drilling, and clean coal. The legacy energy industry lobbyists earned their keep tonight.
Surprisingly, for the first time since he became president, he was in favor of passage of a number of stalled free-trade bills with Colombia, Korea, and Panama. Lobbyists for these countries had to be pleased.
Then again, speaking of lobbyists, his (only in public) vendetta against them continued. He wants to pepper them with many new rules and restrictions — but he can’t go too far, since many retiring or defeated Democrats may turn to this profession after the November elections.