We were promised a “thematic” State of the Union address. The theme Tuesday night seemed to be “platitudes and happy talk.”
It did not lack bromides: “The future we want – all of us want – opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids – all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together,” President Obama said. “It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.”
What did we learn?
First, the president is either utterly unaware of or unwilling to admit his own role in perpetuating divisiveness and polarization.
After seven years of accusing Republicans of everything from “social Darwinism” to putting party above country, he now insists we “need to fix our politics.” It seems that is what he promised to do seven years ago, and obviously was exceptionally unsuccessful. Instead of compromise and conciliation, he rebuffed a “grand bargain” and jammed through the Affordable Care Act on a party-line vote and abused executive power to go around Congress on immigration, guns and the environment.
When he now says, “It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice. It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic,” it is hard to take seriously.
Second, the president chooses not to recognize reality on the international scene, where insults and challenges to the U.S. are commonplace. He insists our enemies aren’t getting stronger. He should ask our allies.
He still swings at straw men: “We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis.... That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam. It’s the lesson of Iraq – and we should have learned it by now.” He ignores calls even within his own party for a more robust foreign policy.
Third, despite Tuesday’s seizure of Navy boats and multiple provocations from Iran, he insisted that “with sanctions and principled diplomacy,” we can “prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. As we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.” The brevity of his remarks on Iran, however, suggest it has not turned out to be the historic deal he painted it to be.
Fourth, he is out of material. There is no new content to his vision of the future. Free college, free prekindergarten and keeping Obamacare. There is, it is said, nothing new under the sun – or in his speech and agenda.
He defines the problems (e.g., globalization), but his solutions consist of more government with no connection to the challenges at hand. His big idea – eradicating cancer – is noble but has been proceeding apace without Vice President Joe Biden, whom he named to lead the effort.
Finally, his cheery tone is totally at odds with the national mood. Most Americans think the economy is not vibrant, watch the U.S. getting kicked around the world, and have seen no real effort to address cronyism. The contrast is dramatic between his serenity and the candidates on both sides channeling public anger.
Unfortunately, the next president will have a heck of a mess to clean up.
Jennifer Rubin writes a blog for the Washington Post.