Ben Stein's Diary

Obama and the Bodysnatchers

Anyone see a leader last night?

By 1.26.11

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My pal, a frequent Spectator contributor and a super smart guy, Aram Bakshian, summed it up perfectly after Barack Obama's State of the Union address.

"Obama does not seem like a leader anymore," he said.

It is sadly true. This was painfully apparent in tonight's speech. It was as if the Bodysnatchers had gotten hold of Mr. Obama and put a sixth grader's brain in him. There were only a few glimpses of Obama the "intellectual" socialist on display tonight. Mostly, his speech sounded as if it could have been given by any 1958 Republican elementary school student. The problem is that this is not 1958 America.

This is a much changed America, and one that has put itself into a terribly confining box.

When Mr. Obama talks about reducing the deficit, it's almost comical. The changes he proposes are so minuscule in terms of their effect on the budget that it's as if he is saying he can throw a rock to the moon. This country's deficit is spectacularly beyond his control. Only really painful surgery -- drastic, draconian cuts in Social Security and in Medicare, and wildly higher taxes on upper income people -- will come even close to fixing the problem.

The GOP has succeeded in making the tax part of these off limits, which makes certain the problem will get even worse. Mr. Obama did not come within a mile of telling the truth about it. He has been completely boxed in by the GOP, to an extent he would find deeply upsetting if he ever admitted it to himself.

When Mr. Obama says he's going to reform American education by setting higher standards, he is just baying at the moon. Most of the nation's public school pupils are not achieving at even close to the rates of the students in other advanced nations. The problem is intensely concentrated among the nonwhite students of this nation. If we cannot find a way to get these kids working, and working hard, to reach basic educational standards, we will face educational and job force catastrophe. For their sake and for the nation's sake, they have to be helped to help themselves. Unless they can be brought up to standards of other industrial nations, we will become a third world country. This remediation can be done and must be done.

There was not one word about this in Mr. Obama's speech. He kept talking about the Sputnik moment in 1957 when the USA made a major effort to improve its science education. I can remember those days very well. The crisis is that we do not have even remotely the same kind of student population we did in 1957. Not a word about that, either.

The crisis in non-white America will kill us if we don't get it fixed, and slogans and test score measures will not do it.

Truth to tell, I don't know what will fix the problem, but I know it can be done and we had better do it.

His bragging about Afghanistan rang a bit hollow, too. If progress is indeed being made in that sad country, the soldiers I talk to do not see it. Time for them to leave. There is just no reason for us to be there any longer.

His ridiculous words about the sanctions on Iran stopping them or slowing them down were almost sad. Israeli spycraft with software is doing something, but Iran is still a super catastrophe in the making.

There were two glimpses of the old Obama -- when he slammed "subsidies" for oil companies, which of course do not get any subsidies, but have business deductions the way every other business does, he sounded every bit like the envious skinny Harvard man he once was. When he railed against tax breaks that he considered identical to government spending, that was outright socialism. That concept implies that all the income in the nation belongs to the state, and that if we let working people keep any of it, that is the same as a government expenditure. The opposite is true. The income belongs to the people, and they allow government to have some of it. But, of course, the servant has become the master now.

One final note: in its lack of eloquence, its complete absence of high points, its elementary school pedagogy, its complete absence of any interesting or memorable phrases, it was possibly the lamest SOTU speech I have ever heard.

Once again, Aram Bakshian, a far smarter man than I am, said it well. Mr. Obama just does not seem like a leader anymore, and, I will add, certainly not like an orator. This was a disappointing evening.

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.