Obama's SOTU Speech: Government Unbound

Barack Obama appeared to be enjoying himself immensely during his State of the Union address. He got to talk -- or rather read aloud (for an hour) -- on national TV, as his loyal minions jumped to their feet more than once a minute (78 times in all) to roar their approval of every new government-spending plan he laid out and every progressive initiative that he offered on guns, voting rights, climate change, and immigration. Best of all, the president did not have to deal with a split screen and the burning cabin in Big Bear Lake, California, as a counterpoint. It was bad enough that the pre-SOTU gab fest on cable channels was cancelled for the coverage of the pursuit of the cop killer Chris Dorner.

The president could not have been happy with the pope for announcing he was stepping down this week, or with North Korea for setting off a powerful nuclear device. This was supposed to be Obama’s week to shine, and these distractions, especially the Dorner manhunt, were not part of the script. The North Korean blast probably led to shortening the president’s pitch in his speech last night for reducing the United States’ arsenal of nuclear weapons. For the president, nuclear-weapons reductions are like gun control -- while the real problem is having these weapons in the hands of outlaw (criminal) nations like North Korea and Iran, the president seems to think our stockpile of them is the real problem.

Needless to say, there was no shout-out to the families of police officers murdered or shot by Dorner, much as there was not a word about the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi. Stevens and the entire Libyan fiasco were inconvenient and best left ignored during the president’s speech, as had been the approach from the time of the attack on the diplomatic outpost until after the election. Rather, the president reassured the nation that al-Qaeda was on its last legs and that the new threats in Africa could be contained by his targeted drone strikes or our backing of other countries sending troops to hot spots (e.g., France in Mali). The country simply did not need to ever occupy another country, nor send a large force to  fight.

It was not hard to tell that the president’s distaste for the upcoming sequester was much less focused on the cuts to defense than on the cuts to his cherished domestic discretionary spending programs. Defense spending is less redistributionist than entitlement spending or discretionary programs. Even worse, more of it goes to red states. You would never know from the State of the Union address that the sequester, which the president condemned on several occasions in his talk last night, was an act of Congress that he signed. He was also its sponsor.

The president, Joe Biden, and Chris Dorner also shared more than a lot of cable news attention last night; they also expressed a desire for more gun control. Dorner saluted the vice president’s efforts at gun control in his rambling manifesto (which contained almost exactly as many words as the president’s speech last night), though he seemed oblivious to the incongruity of backing gun-control measures while driving around Southern California with a small arsenal, firing at and killing law enforcement officers and their relatives. The president, in his emotional pitch for gun control towards the end of his speech, seemed to be acknowledging that his gun-control agenda had stalled a bit. The word went out to Democrat members of Congress to pack the galleries with gun-violence victims.

The president tried to sound reasonable on his gun agenda. He noted that his push for more background checks of gun buyers, smaller magazines, and a ban on “military” style assault weapons would not end all gun violence. In fact, it would likely end very little of it. Chicago, where the president will visit Friday, has a murder rate four times as large as that in New York City and a shooting rate six times higher. This stark differential is  partially due to the quality of the mayors in the two cities. And it is not because of differences in gun-control laws, which are tough in both cities and looser in the suburbs of both cities.

Chicago’s murder spree, and New York’s far greater safety record for its residents, has become a national embarrassment for the president’s hometown. There is much tougher sentencing in New York of gun-violence predators, and New York has a smarter policing strategy, including better targeting of police officers to more violent neighborhoods and the use of stop and frisk by New York police.