President Obama delivered yet another State of the Union address tonight. (The full text of the address is here.) As is typical of these speeches, it offered about as much substance as meat from Taco Bell. It was yet another predictable stream of cliches in a setting that’s become as stylized and predictable as Kabuki theater.
More of the Same
The essential problem with this State of the Union address was that it ignores the spirit of the time. The President’s party just got its asses handed to it in a major electoral loss. The American people are angry at the state of government. They are being forced by the poor economy to constantly cut back their expenses—but they see their government continuing to spend with the reckless abandon of a drunken sailor. They see a President who promised a more accountable, transparent, and efficient government and failed to deliver on those promises. They see a political class that is utterly and completely out of touch with the average American.
And what did the President offer tonight? More of the same tired rhetoric.
No, the path to economic prosperity is not going to be through government “investing” in pie-in-the-sky schemes like “green energy” or high-speed rail networks. No, the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough teachers, it’s that our educational system doesn’t work well enough with the teachers that it has. Everything in this speech was predictable, right down to the applause lines.
Of course, just about every solution that the President mentioned involved growing the size and the scope of government. Yes, he threw a few bones to the right about reducing government bureaucracy and freezing spending—and all of that is well and good. But President Obama’s speech tonight was all about the typical laundry list of goodies that every President promises in just about every State of the Union speech.
A Conflict of Visions
The President spoke extensively about American exceptionalism—but he doesn’t really seem to understand the source of America’s strength. Our political class sees our entrepreneurial class and thinks how great our government is for producing such things. Our entrepreneurial class sees our political class and thinks about how much they keep getting in the way. All the pablum about green energy and high-speed rail sounds great to the political class: but the rest of the country sees it as more expensive boondoggles.
America is an exceptional nation. And it is an exceptional nation because we have a government that, for the most part, gets the hell out of people’s way. The more intrusive and powerful government becomes, the more it slows the pace of American innovation. We can’t out-innovate and out-build nations like India and China from the top down. The spirit of American innovation is being crushed by a sea of red tape, and the President only gave lip service to changing that.
The most important issue for the future of this country is spending: and the President failed to lead on this issue. We cannot continue to spend like we have in years past. We cannot continue to assume that government can grow year after year as it has. The President doesn’t really seem to get this. The State of the Union made the right overtures on fiscal discipline, but it was just that: an overture.
While Rep. Ryan had the unenviable task of responding to the State of the Union, at least he understands the issue. The American people are worried about the pace of spending. And while Rep. Ryan wasn’t the orator that the President was, he cut directly to the key issue. We cannot continue to spend as we have, and the political class should know it.
Ultimately, this State of the Union was forgettable. There was no grand themes, no memorable lines. It was all formula: a grab-bag of new government initiatives wrapped in a few token exhortations to fiscal discipline and slathered liberally with grand-sounding but ultimately empty rhetoric.
The state of our union may be strong, but the state of our political class is abysmal.