Less than three months after voters across the country expressed their utter disdain for Washington and an overreaching government, Barack Obama’s second State of the Union address, and the mindless symbolism surrounding it, validated their judgment and demonstrated that many in the political class, beginning and ending with the president himself, learned nothing from that election.
It began even before the speech. Democrats and Republicans announced to great fanfare that they would sit with their political opponents. It was a quintessential Washington display – it was completely meaningless, editorial boards and Washington chin-strokers loved it, and politicians could congratulate one another on their own courage. At least it didn’t cost any money.
The theme of the president’s address was “Winning the Future” – a phrase as meaningless now as when it was the title of a book by Newt Gingrich in 2005. Where his speech wasn’t inscrutable, it was banal.
*We will move forward together, or not at all – for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.
*The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still.
*So now is the time to act.
*We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us.
And where it wasn’t banal, his speech was filled with the kind of important-sounding goals in every State of the Union that will be forgotten before the week’s end - if they haven’t been already.
With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.
So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.
And over the next ten years, with so many Baby Boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.
Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car.
There were, however, real moments of clarity. In something of a surprise, given the eagerness of the White House to reposition the president as a centrist, Obama spent much of his speech defending the activist government he has grown over the past two years, calling repeatedly for continued “investment” from the public sector.
To drive that point, he recycled – appropriately enough – some language on innovation and spending from a speech he gave in North Carolina last month. In his speech last night, Obama said: “Let’s make sure what we’re cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you’ll feel the impact.”
It’s the second time he’s made that claim. Does President Obama really mean to suggest that the engine of the U.S. economy is government spending? It’s consistent with the way he governed over the first two years of his presidency, but it’s a jarring departure from his sudden centrism.
Overall, the speech was a lot like the Obama presidency: phony bipartisanship, too much spending, unconvincing rhetoric on fiscal restraint, and not enough attention to foreign policy and national security.