February 13, 2013

Obama's Stealthy Mundane SOTU speech

Was there anything striking in the State of the Union speech last night? Not really.  It was ponderous to sit through and there wasn't a single thing that came in that speech that couldn't have been predicted.  The State of the Union shouldn't come as a surprise in large part.  After all, the president is supposed to be reporting to the Congress on the state of the nation.  But this was simply a re-hash of the president's own ideas and perspectives on things rolled up into a political commercial.

But as mundane as it was this is no time for conservatives to be ho-hum about the contents of that speech or the politics surrounding it because, as you'll see in my next post - the left marches on.

The speech itself started with a re-hash of the "war is over" talking points and it was quickly followed with a re-hash of "the economy is recovering" meme.  The president talked about clearing away the rubble of crisis and that the state of the Union was now stronger.  That's a pretty low bar.  Early on it was apparent there would be no substantive new ideas.  Many expected the president to go hard left towards his base and follow in the progressive liberal mold of his inauguration speech.  It was to be an effort to gin up the base to put pressure on Congress to move the country in his direction.  That, along with a few phony outreach to the right and center moments made this a purely political-goaled speech.

There was class warfare predicated on the middle class suffering - he mentioned corporate profits being at an all time high but that wages haven't budged.  That's not new. He's angling to be on the side of the vast middle class.

There was the veiled political jabs designed to fire up the liberal base.  The president mentioned that the country expects politicians to put the nation's interest before their party. What he means is the GOP.  It was clear he viewed, or wants the public to view, gridlock as solely a result of Republican foot-dragging and obstructionism.  Newt Gingrich on CNN before the speech called it exactly right - why is it obstructionist to try to stop a policy that you not only disagree with but regard as "stupid"? The GOP is in large part putting country before politics.  It'd be a lot smoother and perhaps more voter-attractive to just go along with more spending.  But  while it may not be good for getting votes to obstruct stupid ideas, it's genuinely bad for the country to go along with them.

The president threw out a lot of claims that will go largely unchallenged in order to make himself look both great and reasonable.  He claimed that they (collectively) reduced the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion.  REALLY???????? This while the national debt went up by trillions of dollars in his first four years.  The lie is so vast, it's shocking that the Congress didn't erupt in laughter at that comment.  But the president went on that it was done mostly through spending cuts.  Again, really? What counts as a spending cut in his mind outside of money he won't be spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Not spending money that hasn't been appropriated yet doesn't count as a cut.  He doubled down on the notion as well. He said that there was some revenue included as a result of raising tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. Presumably he's talking about the expiring of the Bush Tax cuts.  But didn't that just happen? P-A-N-D-E-R.

The president admitted that the sequester - the automatic cuts that kick in, in lieu of a budget deal - was a bad option.  But again, in order to make his opposition bear an inequitable share of the blame, he threw out a straw man that "some" (again, the GOP) wanted the sequester to avoid the Department of Defense and only apply to domestic spending.  That is not only a misrepresentation, it assumes no one would think that maybe he'd be happier if it applied only to defense spending and left domestic spending intact.  That's something elsewhere in the SOTU speech he frequently opines is a good idea, euphemistically referred to as investments.

The president also used pseudo-economic concepts in his speech, mixing the idea of long term debt with deficits.  He further argued that America can't cut its way to prosperity.  Of course he completely ignores the fact that you can't spend your way to prosperity.  He has already tried that.  Furthermore, controlling spending has nothing to do with prosperity directly, it has to do with imposing fiscal sanity and thereby allowing the country the opportunity to grow and prosper outside of government.  The president still comes from the deep liberal mindset that government is the creator of prosperity.  That has never been government's role.

After that the president headed into a laundry list of re-hashed and half-baked ideas.  He touched on the Simpson-Bowles recommendations on debt reduction after years of ignoring them.  That's known as lip service. He pontificated that Obamacare is helping to slow the growth of health care costs.  A little research should prove that incorrect.  But it is eerily familiar to his unemployment arguments in 2009-2010 about jobs created or fictitiously 'saved'. 

The president argued that the country should change the way govt pays for health care.  He said that it should not be based on the number tests done or days in the hospital but on the quality of care.  Is he talking pay for performance for medical industry? It's certainly half-baked or not substantive.  It was merely pablum for voters.  On a scarier note, it seems to fit well with an amorphous blob of Obamacare that, intended or not, will result in bureaucratic over-reach.

More pablum came from the president and you could see it was all designed for 2014 and 2016 elections to help Democrats. From lectures on brinksmanship and manufactured crises (really Mr. President, you want to lecture on that?) to the the notion of full faith and credit of the American government (from the man singly most  responsible for the nation's lowered credit rating) the president was in pure political mode. He argued deficit reduction is not an economic plan [no, its an economic necessity] but rather growing the economy is what's necessary.  No one argues that point.  He implied that the GOP doesn't see it that way.  The real argument is about how to do it.

Laughably, the president said he wanted smarter government, not bigger, government.  The president cited companies like FordCaterpillar, and Apple on-shoring jobs.  None of those relate to anything Obama or Congress have done.

The president pushed for investment in research and development.  No one argues against innovation and discovery (well, almost no one).  But again the real question is should the government run that research or modify the tax code to encourage companies to do it themselves.  Conservatives believe the latter approach is more fruitful.  That does not make us evil, or anti-progress.  It makes us more aware of the economics.

Finally, the president went into full pandering mode.  He touched on the environmentalists' cause.  He stated that over the last 4 years carbon emissions have gone down.  That's probably just the recession, but hey, he'll take credit.  He touched on the fact that he will use executive actions to drive further environmental protection if Congress doesn't do anything (i.e Cap and Trade, and they won't).  Talking out of both sides of his mouth on energy he gloated about oil and gas production on his watch as being the at highest level in American history.  Again, you can thank Bush and Clinton for the approvals that led to that result, but hey, he'll take credit.  He did mention that he'd keep cutting red tape and speeding up oil and gas exploration. That really needs to be taken with a full mine full of salt.

Back to the pandering he next touched on how early childhood education improves graduation rates, and reduces violent crime? He failed to prove that connection, but even assuming he is correct, he is pandering to those whom he believes want paid early childhood education.

He offered platitudes and executive demand for immigration reform in the next few months.  He played up women's issues.  He demanded changes to minimum wage laws based on cost of living increases. Minimum wage laws are counter-productive.  That's a discussion for another day.  The president noted that Mitt Romney agreed with him on this one, proving conclusively, Romney was NOT our guy.  A commission that involves someone from Romney's team helping to establish that, is wrong for another reason.  The cost of living is just another value that can be manipulated by those who control  the statistics (that would be the government in case you missed it). He talked to the anti-war crowd about ending Afghanistan.  He talked to the national defense crowd about a strong military and being tough on North Korea and Iran on nuclear weapons.  Again, no specifics for them, just platitudes.  He did get a bit specific on cyber-security.  That's a good thing and of national importance but I'm not sure it merited time in the SOTU speech.  But I can give him credit for touching on it.

For the faux 99% crowd he talked about voting reform.  If ever there was a fox in the hen house it is allowing Democrats to oversee voting reform.  

In the final gauche pander of the night, he spoke on gun violence and the need for stricter gun controls.  There were victims' families present.  There were tears and even the rising crescendo of applause as he continued to offer platitudes ("they deserve a vote").  It was hardly eloquent but it didn't need to be.  He was looking for a hammer to use to smash second amendment advocates with.  He likely succeeded and the press will certainly be onside.

In the end the speech was dull.  It was not fun to watch, and it didn't even fill me with the anger previous speech of his have.  The fact is the liberal onslaught has numbed many of us to how shockingly bad these ideas are because we've seen them for so long.  The argument against them is to us clear and simple and logical. It's also become routine.  But just as the left never stops it's march towards socialism, neither can we rest - even if we need it.

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