President Barack Obama, in his first State of the Union address, told us a lot about the state of Obama. But did he clarify anything important about the state of America?
These are fascinating and freighted times. There is a real revolt going on against big, big, big and bigger government. There is a real debate finally coming into view over the character and working principles of this country — which were largely sidelined amid the techno-twitter and polymorphous “Yes we can” of the 2008 campaign. And there are real dangers to this country, and our democratic allies — which no amount of Obama’s “engagement” over the past year has done anything to solve.
This was — as Obama likes to say — “the moment” to ackowledge this scene, and talk about what it means and where it goes. The real State of the Union.
Instead, what sticks in my mind is that the president put more gusto into castigating the Supreme Court than he did into addressing the clear and present danger of Iran’s terror-sponsoring mullahs and their nuclear bomb program. The justices were chewed out, seated as a captive audience right in front of the president, while he lambasted them, asked Congress to follow up, and the crowd behind them rose to applaud.
For Iran’s rulers, the treatment was rather more disinterested. Obama mentioned Iran’s bomb program near the end of his 70-minute speech, describing them as “more isolated,” because they are “violating international agreements.” If they ”continue to ignore their obligations” they will “face growing consequences.”
What does that mean? Does it mean the consequences will grow a little? A lot? Is he planning to make sure those consequences grow enough to actually stop Iran’s bomb program? Or will they just…sort of…maybe…kind of … grow, while he wishes another happy new year to the ayatollahs, and Iran’s nuclear assembly line grows faster? Is this supposed to explain the situation to Americans? Terrify the ayatollahs? What is he talking about?
You can pretty much pick any part of this speech, almost at random, and with varying degrees of importance you end up with the same question. What on earth is he really talking about? But let’s fast-forward through all 70 minutes to that closing peroration: “A new decade stretches before us. We don’t quit.”
“We don’t quit. I don’t quit.”… Who is “we” and why is that different from “I,” as in “I don’t quit” — and what is he talking about? Quit what, exactly, and how did this even come up? Quit a tradition of more than two centuries of the American spirit (did he really think we were all about to quit?). Quit his command-and-control healthcare agenda? …”Let’s seize this moment“… “start anew“…”carry the dream forward“… these are things he might have been saying to himself in the mirror last week, as the news rolled in of the Massachusetts election. But for rest of the country, the people who inhabit this union, for the world out there listening in, what is he talking about?