Preparing and eating dinner took precedence of the President’s first State of the Union speech, so I didn’t watch it in real time. Indeed, because I find Obama’s presentation dull (he has the cadences of a slightly defective metronome), I haven’t listened to it at all, but I have read it. I therefore felt that, as an obsessive blogger, it behooved me to make a few comments.
The most obvious comment to make is that the speech was sooooo loooong, clocking in at over an hour. This might have been okay, but for the second most obvious comment I’m about to make, which is that it was dull. It suffered from exactly the same defect as Obama’s inauguration speech: there was no underlying theme tying it together. It was, instead, a slightly tempered laundry list of Leftist dreams, wrapped up with a wooden peroration about America’s wonderfulness. In other words, leaden, not stirring — an expected sin from most presidents, but an unforgivable sin in a president elected primarily based upon the expectation that he would be the greatest orator since Cicero.
By my rough count, there are 37 “I’s” in the speech. By contrast, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural speech had one “I” in it. Because we live in a more confessional age than in times past, a review of SOTU speeches from the last 40 years probably have their fair numbers of “I’s” in them, but they tend to leap out in an Obama speech, since they are both overused and emblematic of the man himself.
Speaking of the man himself, I’m patting myself on the back, in a slightly depressed way, because the speech was exactly what one could have predicted after reading my attack on Obama’s narcissism. It was dishonest, defensive and, significantly, showed an inability to be flexible in the face of a rebuff from the voters. Where both Reagan and Clinton, when rebuffed, tacked to the middle, Obama continues to push an agenda that is more statist than the American people want.
I have no desire to get bogged down in the endless minutiae of Obama’s speech. It reminds me of the briefs written by a lawyer against whom I had the misfortune to litigate almost 20 years ago. To the uninitiated, his briefs, aside from the grammatical errors, looked like ordinary documents, with facts, laws and arguments. Only to the educated eye was it clear that each sentence contained at least one factual or legal falsehood or twisted argument. Unfortunately, it might take a paragraph or a page to assemble the facts, law and argument necessary to expose even a single misstatement. This meant that his briefs were smooth and seamless, although entirely false, whereas my opposing briefs, in their effort to educate the court, were long and complicated. Smart judges ruled in my favor; dumb judges (and, boy, are there a lot of those in San Francisco Superior Court), took the easy way out, only to be reversed, every time, at the appellate level. Because this is a blog, not a legal brief, I’m not going to occupy myself with trying to right every factual wrong in Obama’s speech. But there are a few points I want to make.
Obama starts the speech by complaining that things were rotten when he arrived in town, by saying that he did everything possible to make it better, and then by expressing surprise that, one year later, things are worse. Hmmm. Could it be . . . and I’m just suggesting here . . . but could it be that the “everything” Obama did is what made things worse? Obama doesn’t seem to recognize that the efforts he put in place, which involved burdening our country with decades worth of crippling debt, much of which went to political pandering, might be a cause-and-effect situation:
One year ago, I took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by a severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse and a government deeply in debt. Experts from across the political spectrum warned that if we did not act, we might face a second depression. So we acted — immediately and aggressively. And one year later, the worst of the storm has passed.
But the devastation remains. One in 10 Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard. And for those who’d already known poverty, life has become that much harder.
Laughably, after stating the above about the massive unemployment, Obama makes his risible statement that, in the face of these rising unemployment numbers, his wonderful policies mean that “there are about 2 million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed.” People like me, those who believe in the marketplace, and believe that government is slow and, because of its concentration of powers, inclined to corruption, think that, had the money been disseminated to businesses and individuals in the form of tax breaks and refunds, there would have been a whole lot more employed and a whole lot less unemployed walking around.
Did you barf, as I did, when Obama said “I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change”? I think ordinary Americans are figuring out that the “overwhelming scientific evidence” is a cesspool of ambition, distraction, uglification and derision, with some actual facts thrown in for leavening. I’ll concede that the climate is changing, because it has done so for 3 billion or so years. I’ll concede, wholeheartedly, that we are the earth’s stewards, and that it behooves us to treat it with respect, for our own benefit and that of our children. But I will not allow myself to be bullied into stupid economic decisions, all in the name of false, agenda-driven “science.”
Throughout the speech, to cover up for the government’s culpability in worsening the recession by taking money away from the people and packing it into the government, Obama engages in populist attacks against the marketplace. There are little throwaway lines (“bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded, but hard work on Main Street isn’t”) that culminate in Obama’s unconscionable attack on the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court justices, Sotomayor included, responded by sitting there absolutely frozen in shock, surrounded by a sea of applauding Democrats:
With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.
I don’t believe that a President has ever used a SOTU as a vehicle to attack the Supreme Court — and nodding to the “separation of powers” doesn’t make it any better. The statement is especially foul considering that the Supreme Court decision goes to the heart of America’s uniqueness, it’s difference from all other countries, and that is its veneration for freedom of speech, especially in the political marketplace. I think that even ordinary Americans, unversed in the Constitutional law that was allegedly Obama’s academic specialty, have figured this one out. [UPDATE: Not only was Obama's attack on the Supreme Court unprecedented it was just plain wrong, explaining Alito's shocked "not true" response.]
The level of self-delusion in the speech is staggering. A few paragraphs after his extraordinary attack on the Supremes, Obama, self-deprecatingly, assures everyone that he never thought he was the Messiah:
Of course, none of these reforms will even happen if we don’t also reform how we work with one another. Now, I’m not naive. I never thought that the mere fact of my election would usher in peace and harmony — and some post-partisan era. I knew that both parties have fed divisions that are deeply entrenched. And on some issues, there are simply philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways. These disagreements, about the role of government in our lives, about our national priorities and our national security, they’ve been taking place for over 200 years. They’re the very essence of our democracy.
This is, to say the least, a peculiar statement from a man whose sole platform, in the absence of any experience or accomplishments, was that his wonderful temperament would usher in a new era of government, free from partisan fighting at home, creating peace and harmony abroad, and then, just for an encore, he would heal the planet and lower the seas. His whole shtick, one that vanished the moment he announced in a meeting that he won, and his opponents lost, was that he would transcend all serious fighting and petty bickering on the earth, an act that had his followers likening him to a sort of God.
And that’s really all I want to say now. Yes, there is more and more to attack, whether on speech, jobs, ugly populism, national security, etc., but I grow weary just thinking of that task. Bottom line: despite the rebuff in Massachusetts (and New Jersey and Virginia), Obama chooses to believe that nothing has really changed. Americans, he thinks, want big government. Indeed, he could have “X’d” out the entire speech and simply said this:
Madam Speaker, Vice President Biden, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:
Better living through Big Government
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.
And as for that last line, which I copied directly out of his actual speech, I find it funny coming out of the mouth of a man who can’t seem to find a church in Washington, D.C. — even though I know the City boasts a few churches — and who has not attended any serious religious occasions since arriving in D.C. Just a reminder, as if you needed one, that his real God is government.
If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can watch the speech here. At around 46:30, you can see Obama’s attack on the Supreme’s, followed by their shocked reaction.
UPDATE: Mark Steyn says clearly what I, in a muddled way, tried to say about the vision-free, laundry-list quality of Obama’s speech:
It sounds like an all-purpose speech for President Anyone: We’ve met here in good times and bad, war and peace, prosperity and depression, Shrove Tuesday and Super Bowl Sunday, riding high in April, shot down in May. We’ve been up and down and over and out and I know one thing. Each time we find ourselves flat on our face, we pick ourselves up and get back in the race. That’s life, pause for applause . . .
There’s no sense that, even as platitudinous filler, it arises organically from who this man is. As mawkish and shameless as the Clinton SOTUs were, they nevertheless projected a kind of authenticity. With Obama, the big-picture uplift seems unmoored from any personal connection — and he’s not good enough to make it real. Same with all those municipal name-checks.
When he does say anything firm and declarative — the pro-business stuff at home, the pro-freedom stuff abroad — it’s entirely detached from any policy, any action, so it plays to the Bob Herbert trust issue. And, when he moves from the gaseous and general to the specific, he becomes petty and and thin-skinned and unpresidential. And, unlike the national security feints and 101 Historical Allusions For Public Speakers stuff, the petulance is all too obviously real.