There were some nice patriotic touches, a passel of small proposals, and old ideas like soaking the rich in President Obama’s State of the Union Address. But mostly the speech consisted of an effort to make a big deal out of not much.
Like many State of the Union speeches, this one was a bit of an anti-climax. It turns out the speech Obama delivered in Osawatomie, Kansas, in December, was more indicative of his thinking about 2012, his reelection year. In that one, he didn’t pull his partisan punches. Last night, he did.
The president called on Congress to pass the payroll tax cut “without delay.” He didn’t mention that House Republicans approved exactly that last year, only to be forced to go along with the Democratic Senate that extended the tax cut for two months. Both parties now agree on a full year’s cut. So relax, Mr. President.
Obama urged passage of legislation to reduce energy waste by manufacturers that, he claimed, would save $100 billion over 10 years. But do manufacturers really need to be incentivized to save costs of that magnitude? Chances are, they’re already doing it.
He came out strongly for a law against insider trading by members of Congress. A smaller problem would be hard to find. He’s for doubling the number of work-study jobs for college students. But does this really require presidential attention?
Then there were the hardy perennials. The president said he’d sign an executive order cutting red tape that slows down construction projects. Red tape always takes a beating in State of the Unions. And he’s ordering federal agencies to eliminate regulations that don’t make sense. The problem is federal agencies think their regulations do make sense. Thus serious deregulation won’t happen.
The president also filled the speech with demands for action on issues over which he has no control. He wants a requirement that students stay in school until they graduate or turn 18. States and school boards will decide that issue. He wants bad teachers replaced, but doing so isn’t his job.
Dubious claims? The president made a few. “We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000,” Obama said. How do we “know” that? He said “we’ve agreed” to cut the deficit by $2 trillion. But $1.2 trillion of that presumably consists of deficit reductions the congressional supercommittee couldn’t agree on and, while supposedly mandatory, may be never be enacted.
Yes, Obama had several seemingly important proposals. His scheme for bringing American jobs back from overseas was needlessly complicated. Just cut the corporate rate in half, Mr. President, and jobs will come home. He vowed to rationalize the dozens of job training programs. Good luck. Practically every president has tried to do that—and failed.
Finally, Obama did his usual breast beating, insisting he won’t back down on matters no on in America” expects him to back down on. “I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy,” he said. Wow! “I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury pollution or making sure our food is safe or our water is clean.” Who knew?
Presidents from George Washington’s time have given historically significant address. State of the Union speeches rarely qualify. Until the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, they didn’t deliver them. They were written. That’s a practice Obama should consider reviving.