After a year of backroom deals and a total lack of transparency for all the big-ticket legislation, the best Obama offered in the speech is the opening of the White House visitor log.
The proposed three-year freeze of the non-defense discretionary budget is pegged to high 2010 spending levels. It has been ripped to shreds by economists since the president first floated the idea. Obama finally mentioned it in the middle of the speech — there was no applause from either side of the chamber.
He admonished Congress: “We can’t wage a perpetual campaign.” Did David Plouffe write that line?
The president did seem to recognize the existence of an opposition party, promising “monthly meetings” with Republican leadership. I remember when Obama met with the Republican caucus right after his inauguration — a smart move. Then there were no more meetings. We’ll have to see how long this promise will be kept.
The military brass seemed quite unhappy. They didn’t clap about bringing home our boys from Iraq, and they seemed absolutely mortified when Obama pledged to abolish “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
The Supreme Court justices harrumphed when Obama scolded them for rejecting spending limits during federal election campaigns, with Justice Alito looking in danger of cardiac arrest. Juan Williams of Fox News said he thought the scolding of the justices about a policy was “inappropriate.”
On foreign policy, the president was strange. He never mentioned Osama bin Laden once, never mentioned closing Gitmo, didn’t say a word about his decision to stage the KSM trial in New York City. Nothing about the spate of terrorist attacks that have gripped our country since the fall, from the Fort Hood shooting to the Christmas bombing attempt. Simply, not a word about the war on terror.
He spoke passively of the “promise” of liberty in Iran, like a bystander. He declared we would rebuild Haiti, the basket case of the Western Hemisphere, though Clintonian diplomacy failed to change anything on the island nation. But George Clooney and the Hollywood posse are behind the initiative, so it has to be on the right side of the angels.
“We don’t quit,” he promised at the end. “I don’t quit.”
It didn’t seem like a typical, rousing Obama speech, teleprompters and all. It didn’t seem authentic. There was no sentiment, no wise sayings. No proud statement of deeds.
The one good thing about the speech is that it did not reflect the mood of the left this evening. Hours before the speech, Huffington Post’s Dan Froomkin wrote a fantasy Obama SOTU address titled “What Obama Should Say, But Won’t.” This mythical speech called for inserting a dose of left-wing authoritarianism by urging the imposition of a Hugo Chavez-style “Do as I Say” White House policy. Froomkin urged the president to use his executive powers to bypass Congress and get what he wants: “I will take unilateral action where I can and where I can’t, there will be lines drawn in the sand, and there will be consequences for those who do not heed them.”
Thankfully for the nation, he did not say that.