State of the Union Preview: Obama Re-Launches Campaign; Questions Remain

In the 2013 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama is expected to kick off his second term agenda with “aggressive” flourish. He will not only outline his legislative ideas, but suggest executive actions that he intends to take regardless of Congress in pursuit of the stark left-wing vision he presented in his second inaugural address. And he will follow his speech with a special conference call with activists across the nation.

Yet even as the president intends to use the State of the Union address as the launch of yet another phase of his endless campaign, it retains the form, if not the function, of an annual report on the nation’s progress. And the taxpayers and voters have the right to demand answers about several alarming events and developments. Repeating rhetoric from previous years (see below, or at right) will not be enough to answer the following basic questions:

1. Why, after telling the nation our economy was “poised for progress,” are we now experiencing an economic contraction? Gross domestic product shrank by 0.1% last quarter. Though economists suspect growth to rebound somewhat in the first quarter of 2013, a second consecutive contraction would mean official recession. Why, after repeated claims of recovery, has the president led us to an economic standstill?

2. What happened in Benghazi? The president misled the American people about the cause of the deadly attack on Sep. 11, 2012, telling us it had been sparked by an anti-Islam video. Last week, it emerged in testimony before the Senate that the president did nothing throughout the evening after learning about the attack. He was not in touch with military leaders, nor the Secretaries of Defense or State. Why? And what happened?

3. Why has Obamacare failed to control costs as promised? The president’s main legislative accomplishment has not only failed to keep the cost of health care down; it has also far exceeded its promised price tag. Furthermore, while the president promised in previous addresses that people could keep their doctor and their insurance, 7 million people will now lose theirs. Will the president own up to those problems--and fix them? 

4. After years of “green energy,” why are fuel prices so high? The president will talk about “climate change,” but he has ignored the reality of the high energy costs facing consumers. His “green” initiatives have yielded repeated failures, while he has impeded fossil fuel jobs on public land and offshore, resisting the Keystone pipeline. Meanwhile, U.S. carbon emissions have actually fallen on their own through the natural gas boom. 

5. Why are we seeing an explosion in delinquent student loan debt? In previous years, the president proposed measures to relieve the burden of tuition costs and student loans. Yet student loan debt has soared, placing families and taxpayers at risk. That debt affects the same generation that is bearing the burden of funding our broken entitlement system and Obamacare. Could it be that unemployment is the problem?

6. When are you going to do something about the deficit and the national debt? The debt is near $16.5 trillion--some $6 trillion higher than when he took office--and though the president will blame Republicans, denying his paternity of the sequester, none of his budgets have balanced revenue with spending. The White House rejects most entitlement reforms, even those of his own commission. So what will Obama do?

7. Why does none of the gun control measures proposed by the president actually address the problem of Sandy Hook? The mass shooting in Newtown, CT will be a focus. Yet among the executive steps Obama described, and within the new assault weapons ban proposed by his party, there is nothing that actually would have prevented the Sandy Hook shooting. Is this nothing but an assault on the 2nd Amendment?

8. Why are many victims of Sandy still waiting? Days before the presidential election, the president vowed there would be “No bureaucracy. No red tape” to slow down recovery. And yet his administration’s response has been sluggish at best, quite apart from the delay in Congress for approval of emergency relief (laden with unrelated spending). Why has he failed to make good on his promise? When will residents be made whole?

9. Why has there been no progress on North Korea or Iran? The president will, no doubt, mention the North Korean nuclear test, and will likely mention Iran, as he has done in previous years. Yet despite his promises of progress several years ago, we are no closer to stopping nuclear proliferation among our enemies than we were when he first took office. Quite the contrary: we seem to be disarming ourselves, unilaterally.  

10. When will you stop blaming and attacking your opponents? Except on the rare occasion of a national tragedy or a military triumph, the president has rarely been the uniting figure he once pretended to be. Instead, he has attacked a list of opponents, not limited to Republicans, casting them as having the worst possible motives. When will he take full, and real, responsibility for his record, and for the tasks of the job he sought?

Summaries of previous addresses:

2009

In 2009, President Barack Obama addressed both houses of Congress in the midst of the worst of the recession, and delivered what was then one of the most ideological, left-wing addresses by a president in American history. (He has since surpassed that with his second inaugural address). The president promised that we would “emerge stronger than before.” If so, looking back, we did not do so by the end of his first term.

Obama took aim at his predecessors, telling America that they had not previously met their economic and social responsibilities. He would, Obama promised, address that failure, starting with job creation. He promised that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (i.e. the stimulus) would “save or create” create 3.5 million jobs in two years, more than 90 percent of which (i.e. 3.15 million) would be in the private sector, he said. 

In fact, the private sector went on to lose 1.4 million jobs over the next two years. As Obama would later admit, many of the so-called “shovel-ready” stimulus projects simply weren’t. The president went on to attack the idea that government has “no role” to play in the economy, pledging to “invest”in “energy, health care, and education” while at the same time “cut[ting] back on programs we don’t need,” though he did not mention any.

Among other promises, Obama pledged to “double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years.” (In fact, it rose by just over 10%.) He promised to pass health reform that would be “paid for” and would reduce the deficit. (Today, the costs of Obamacare continue to rise past estimates.) And he “pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office). In reality, he has run deficits over $1 trillion each year.

2010

President Barack Obama began his 2010 State of the Union address by acknowledging that the country was still going through tough economic times. He took credit for cutting taxes “for 95 percent of working families” (in reality, a payroll tax credit that expired in 2011). Despite unemployment near 10%, he took credit for 2 million jobs that he claimed would otherwise have been lost; if true, that statistic referred to public, not private, jobs.

Obama described a number of economic proposals. He described a new lending fund for community banks, which failed by 2011. He lauded the start of a new high-speed rail project in Florida, which was eventually halted by the new governor. He promised that Solyndra would create 1,000 new jobs; it closed the next year. He pledged to double exports in five years; in the years since, exports have risen less than 30%. He also promised to help those struggling with student loans and mortgages; however, student loan delinquency is rising, and mortgage assistance programs were largely ineffective.

The president focused on Obamacare, which had triggered nationwide opposition, and promised it would “preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan.” (This month, the Congressional Budget Office revealed that 7 million would lose their insurance.) Obama also promised his plan would “bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses”--almost all of which has turned out to be untrue.

In one of the speech’s most memorable--and alarming--moments, President Obama rebuked the Supreme Court, which was seated in front of him, for their decision in the Citizens United case, charging that it would allow foreign corporations “to spend without limit” in U.S. elections. Justice Samuel Alito quietly mouthed the words: “Not true.”

Obama then attacked the culture of Washington, “where every day is Election Day.” He closed with strong words on foreign policy, pledging to fight Al Qaeda even as the U.S. withdrew from Iraq and Afghanistan. He criticized human rights abuses in Iran, which he was slow to do during protests in 2009, and described nuclear negotiations with Russia.

2011

Three months after his party suffered massive midterm election losses, President Barack Obama addressed the new, divided Congress in his 2011 State of the Union address. He began by referring to the recent Tucson shootings as a reminder of the importance of unity amidst “the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate,” a theme Democrats in particular had stressed, as if that rancor were conservatives’ fault.

Obama’s soaring rhetoric on the economy was more restrained than in previous years. He lauded some positive signs: “[T]he stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.” Yet he acknowledged implicitly that jobs remained a challenge, calling for a new jobs bill. Putting a positive spin on bleak results, the president claimed the economy was “poised for progress”--a phrase he has repeated through today.

While promising a freeze on new federal spending for five years, Obama spoke about the spending he wanted to protect, particularly “investment” in innovation, education and infrastructure. The U.S. faced a “Sputnik moment,” he said, and had to rise to the challenge. He lauded programs such as Race to the Top, and promised to lower the corporate tax rate, review government regulations, consider tort reform, simplify the tax code, and tackle immigration reform--all of which he failed to do in the following years.

On foreign policy, the president repeated many of the points he had made in 2010, and added that gay troops would no longer be barred from service. He also endorsed the uprising in Tunisia that kicked off the “Arab Spring”; after being criticized for reacting too slowly to the radical changes across the region, now Obama sought to endorse them.

2012

In a preview of his re-election campaign, President Barack Obama used his 2012 State of the Union address to describe a horrific past to which he would not let the nation return. “No, we will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits...to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny your coverage, or charge women differently than men...to the days when Wall Street was allowed to play by its own set of rules.”

Touting the successful raid against Osama bin Laden, the president raised eyebrows by suggesting that the military was a model for how the country as a whole should work: “When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one nation, leaving no one behind.” Gone were the days when Obama saw dissent as patriotic.

The president also talked up the nation’s economic recovery, and pledged to revive manufacturing, to confront China over trade, and (once again) to reform the nation’s tax code. He also repeated promises to focus on education, immigration reform, and renewable energy. In fact, so much of his 2012 address was repeated from previous years that the Republican National Committee released a side-by-side comparison.

Projecting election-year pride, Obama spoke about various achievements over his first term, telling Congress (inaccurately) that opinions of America had risen worldwide. Obama also made a false claim about the deficit that Democrats have since repeated in various forms--namely, that he had cut $2 trillion from spending. He also promised that he would fight financial crimes, even though Wall Street has yet to face one prosecution related to the 2008 crash

Obama did make--and deliver on--one new promise: to ban insider trading in Congress, a cause that began with Breitbart editor Peter Schweizer.


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