Suppose a president of the United States delivered a State of the Union address and nobody cared? Isn’t that what happened last week when the increasingly irrelevant – and, yes, boring – Barack Obama droned on about predictable things in a predictable way?
One of the problems with political speech is that it exists in its own world and creates its own standards. Politicians measure their policies according to their own “facts,” ignoring outcomes that don’t fit their beliefs.
A new ABC News-Washington Post poll reveals the problem for the president. After taking office with sky-high approval and credibility numbers, the president now finds that 63 percent of American voters surveyed lack any confidence he will make right decisions for the country’s future. Furthermore, according to the poll, 51 percent now believe he is not a strong leader.
Credibility and strength are the twin supports of any presidency. When they are gone, the administration crumbles in the minds of its citizenry and shrinks in stature around the world. In a world full of threats and challenges, this can only encourage America’s enemies, who might think they have nothing to fear from a toothless tiger.
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Given the sources of information available to the average citizen, deconstructing the president’s grand claims is not difficult.
“Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged,” the president said. “Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.”
Yet the nonpartisan Tax Foundation points to a Congressional Budget Office finding on income inequality: “Inequality today is slightly higher than the average of the past 30 years, but less than it was during the last two years of the Clinton administration.”
The president has mentioned the need for fixing American roads and bridges – infrastructure – in all of his State of the Union addresses. He claims the economy is improving and there has been strong job growth. Yet, according to a report from Sentier Research on household income trends, since Obama came into office median household income has dropped by $3,827. It went from $56,124 in January 2009 to $52,297 in December 2013.
The poverty level, according to the U.S. Census, has increased during the same period, from 13.2 to 15 percent. A record 46.5 million Americans are now considered poor.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average number of weeks the unemployed have been without jobs has nearly doubled during Obama’s presidency, from 19.8 weeks in January 2009 to 37.1 weeks in December 2013.
All of the president’s laments and criticisms are about conditions that exist on his watch. It is his economy, his high unemployment rate, his dysfunctional health care plan and his ineffective foreign policy.
This presents an opportunity and a danger for Republicans. The opportunity is to fill the vacuum with proposals that will turn the country in a positive, more prosperous direction and reduce the size, cost and reach of the federal government. The danger is that Republicans will blow it, nominating candidates who cannot win with policies that are more negative than positive.