The leaks before the President’s 2014 State of the Union Speech (SOTU) threatened that Mr. Obama would take “pen and phone” to bypass Congress; instead the president gave a softer speech than was expected. The harsh partisan undertones were softened by well-polled language and tried-and-true rhetorical techniques. Income inequality was addressed in terms of providing “opportunity.” Environmental issues were presented, typically, as something we do “for children” — to give them a “safer, more stable world.” Immigration reform was couched in terms of “fulfilling dreams” and “creating jobs for everyone.” Even so, there was no softening the inevitable polarization caused by a blame-shifting President who demonizes his opponents.
The speech was a pugnacious compilation of small achievements, exaggerated or distorted accomplishments, emotional stories, bits of humor, insincere rhetorical outreaches to GOP leaders, and discussion of every issue important to his die-hard base. It was a typical list of utopian ideas designed to appeal to each of the pet causes of the Democratic base. For instance, “guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education” and assuring that “every American has the skills to fill jobs” in this “rapidly changing economy.”
The President’s tin ear was jarring. The latest poll from NBC/Wall Street Journal shows that only 3 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. is a strong nation today and that less than 30 percent believe that the country is headed in the right direction. The President’s speaking ability, charm and bonhomie has, in the past, been his means of getting ahead, getting what he wants and swaying people his way. This speech was particularly important because he is perilously close to being a lame duck already. He needed to be positive and find ways to seem bipartisan and conciliatory. But he couldn’t help himself; he continued to rely on rhetoric rather than facts. He declared this to be a “breakthrough” year and asked whether we, the American people, will help or hinder, as though any lack of progress was because of somebody else. This arrogance and lack of humility was particularly troubling in the face of the worst year of his presidency when, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, half of Americans disapprove of his performance and nearly two-thirds of Americans don’t trust him to make the right decisions.
There were glaring inconsistencies and holes in logic throughout the speech. He claimed we’ve had “four years of economic growth”; as a result, those at the top “have never done better,” but economic inequality has “deepened.” Excuse me, whose policies caused that deepening? Mr. Obama gave very emotional — and appropriate — tributes to the nation’s military and honored a genuine national hero who received a sustained standing ovation, but he has sent our servicemen and women into battle with “rules of engagement” that have left them dangerously exposed on the field, cut their pensions, closed their hospitals, and reduced their ranks. He bragged about declining unemployment rates, but there was no mention that the drop is because so many have given up on finding a job, nor did he mention the unprecedented levels of food stamp dependency and record low labor force participation rates. The President trotted out the discredited canard that women make 77 cents on the male dollar. Labor Department studies show that when women’s choices, education, and experience are taken into account, there is no male-female wage gap.
There were glaring omissions as well. You’d have thought Obamacare was a resounding success, both from the President’s remarks and from the Democrat response. Yet millions more people have lost their health insurance than have gained coverage under Obamacare. He didn’t address religious liberty issues, nor the decline in marriage. It was disconcerting for the President — who has seldom gone to church over the past five years and who has undermined religion in the public square — to mention people going to church and refer to pastors with faux respect.
If the President truly desires to “make Washington work better” and if he really wants to “rebuild the trust of the people,” he should lay down his pen and pick up his phone to call members of Congress. He should apologize to the Hobby Lobby founders; entrepreneurs like them are the backbone of the American economy. He should express appreciation for people of faith and conviction like the Little Sisters of the Poor who have spent their lives helping others. He should give respect to the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and religious liberty for those who disagree with him, including GOP members of Congress.